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Iraqi soldiers on military vehicles in the Qatash area towards Kirkuk gas plant Monday. Photo made from video: APTN via AP

After Iraqi forces moved in to oil-rich Kirkuk over the weekend, Kurds have started fleeing the disputed area, some heading for the Kurdish capital of Erbil, 60 miles to the north, per NPR. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said it was necessary to send in troops to "protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition"— this comes about a month after Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence, a vote al-Abadi said was unconstitutional.

The U.S. factor: The U.S. supports both the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, and Iraqi government forces in the fight against ISIS, and has provided both sides with weapons. The U.S., like Baghdad, opposed the Kurdish referendum vote and today the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad stuck to the State Department line, urging all parties to remember "ISIS remains the true enemy of Iraq."

Big picture: Recall, the Peshmerga took over Kirkuk in 2014 after ISIS knocked out the Iraqi army in the area. The latest developments indicate that areas captured from ISIS are ripe for conflict over territorial control, per the BBC's Jonathan Marcus. Baghdad can say it's returning things to the way they were before ISIS, but the Kurds can claim majority support.

What's happening:

  • Iraqi forces have moved into airports, a military base, and into major oil fields near the city. Kurdish party headquarters have been abandoned.
  • Kurdish officials said the Iraqi army had launched a "major, multi-prong attack," reporting clashes on the outskirts of the city, including burnt houses and "lots of casualties," per Peshmerga spokesman Brig Gen Bahzad Ahmed, although the BBC notes the account couldn't be verified. Peshmerga general command said Abadi's government "should pay a heavy price" for its behavior.
  • The Iraqi government claimed the PKK, Turkey's Kurdish insurgents, had arrived in Kirkuk, and said that would be tantamount to war, per the AP.

Go deeper

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters rallied outside fortified statehouses over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.