BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi government forces captured the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk on Monday, responding to a Kurdish vote on independence with a bold lightning strike that transforms the balance of power in the country.
A convoy of armored vehicles from Iraq’s elite U.S.-trained Counter-Terrorism Force seized the provincial government headquarters in the center of Kirkuk on Monday afternoon, residents said, less than a day after the operation began.
A dozen armored vehicles arrived at the building and took up positions nearby alongside local police, residents said. They pulled down the Kurdish flag and left the Iraqi flag flying.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered that the Iraqi flag be hoisted over Kirkuk and other disputed areas claimed by both the central government and the Kurds, who defied Baghdad to hold a vote for independence on Sept. 25.
Baghdad described the advance as largely unopposed, and urged the Kurdish security forces known as Peshmerga to…