Kirkuk is part of the Kurdistan Region and its status is non-negotiable, the province's ousted Governor, Najmaldin Karim, said on Saturday.
Iraqi forces along with the Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia (PMF) took over the Kirkuk province and its oil fields on Oct. 16 in retaliation to the Sep. 25 referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region and disputed territories, which included the now-embattled province.
“I was contacted many times by those who were working with the Iranians on my phone, insisting that I stay in the house,” Karim told American NPR radio, stating they would have taken him prisoner or killed him if he stayed.
In addition to Iraqi troops, he blamed the members of his party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), for selling out Kirkuk and for threatening him.
“What happened in Kirkuk was treachery and treason.”
Karim was the governor of Kirkuk for six years. Most of the province, including the city of Kirkuk, was under the protection of the Kurdish Peshmerga and security forces since mid-2014 after the Islamic State (IS) emerged and the Iraqi army collapsed.
The Governor also criticized the Kurdistan Region's Western allies for betraying the Kurds, especially considering the Peshmerga Forces' sacrifices in fighting the jihadist group.
“Unfortunately, there was some hypocrisy by the Europeans and Americans when it came to that issue. We have made it clear that the referendum doesn't mean a declaration of independence immediately. It doesn't mean that the borders of Kurdistan will be drawn based on that referendum,” he added.
Kirkuk is an oil-rich province located in the south of the Kurdistan Region and north of Iraq. It is a multi-ethnic province with a diverse religious background made up of Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, and Christians. Kurds account for the majority of the population.
Following the Oct. 16 assault by Iraqi forces and the Shia militias, over 120,000 people, mostly Kurds, were displaced from Kirkuk to the neighboring provinces of Erbil and Sulaimani.