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Baghdad launches Kirkuk operation amid bitter row with Kurds

13 Octobre 2017

Ksrat Resul, vice president of Iraqi Kurdish regional management, announced that thousands of peshmerga have been deployed to Kirkuk region since last night.

Tension has steadily mounted between Baghdad and Erbil since September 25, when Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas - and in a handful of disputed areas - voted to declare political independence.

Polling was held in the three provinces that have long formed an autonomous Kurdish region as well as neighbouring areas, including Kirkuk, that Kurdish forces seized from the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group during the fightback against the armed group's 2014 offensive through areas north and west of Baghdad.

"Their order is to defend at any cost", Hemin Hawrami said.

The orders came after the Kurdish authorities accused the Iraqi government of massing forces in readiness for an offensive to seize Kurdish-held oil fields in the province.

They accused the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) - paramilitary units dominated by Iran-trained Shia militia - of massing fighters in two mainly Shia Turkmen areas south of Kirkuk in a bid to provoke a confrontation.

"These forces are approximately three kilometres (two miles) from peshmerga frontline positions", it said.

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"Intelligence shows intention to take over nearby oil fields, airport and military base".

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly said he has no plans to go further and actually attack the territory.

"No escalation from our side".

The rise in tensions came two weeks after Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the central government condemned as illegal.

Baghdad continues to reject decades-old Kurdish ambitions to incorporate Kirkuk and other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their autonomous region.

On Thursday, Kurdish peshmerga closed the two main roads from Iraq's second city Mosul to the Kurdish cities of Arbil and Dohuk for several hours for fear of an attack in that area.

Iraq's government has taken a series of measures to isolate the region since Kurds held a Sept 25 referendum on independence, including banning global flights from going there and calling for a halt to its crude oil sales.

Baghdad launches Kirkuk operation amid bitter row with Kurds