TUZ KHURMATU, Iraq — A shootout over an unpaid gasoline bill in this small but hotly contested town has sent tensions soaring between the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the northern region of Kurdistan, threatening to ignite the Arab-Kurdish conflict that many have long feared.
On Tuesday, the Iraqi army rushed thousands of troops and reinforcements to the area after the Kurdish regional government placed its pesh merga forces on high alert along the arc of disputed territory that spans the borders of the semiautonomous Kurdish enclave.
Col. Dhia al-Wakil, a spokesman for the Iraqi army, said the additional troops were dispatched “only as a precautionary measure, to face any possible attack from the pesh merga.”
But Kurds said they suspect that the reinforcements, which include tanks and heavy artillery, signal an intent to attack their forces. “If the central government keeps sending these extra troops, we fear there may be clashes,” said Jabar Yawar, the pesh merga’s secretary general. “If one bullet is fired, the whole of the disputed areas will erupt in flames.”