Iraqi forces launch operation for Kurdish-held oil fields, military base
16 October, 2017, 04:51 | Author: Dustin Murphy
Both the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga are key allies of the USA -led coalition in its fight against ISIS in Iraq, and the threat of armed clashes poses a major challenge for Western governments.
Iraqi forces and their allies began moving toward Kirkuk Thursday night, aiming for military bases to the northwest and southwest of the city, Kurdish commander Gen. Pirot Abdulla told ABC News.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that tensions between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in and around Kirkuk had the full attention of the United States, which was working to ensure it does not escalate.
"Iraqi forces and Popular Mobilization are now advancing from Taza, south of Kirkuk, in a major operation; their intention is to enter the city and take over (the) K1 base and oil fields, " said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Security Council. The General Command of Peshmerga Forces released a statement saying the situation "has unsafe indications for war".
The conflicting assertions came a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Baghdad had no plan to attack Kurdish forces around Kirkuk, a city about 165 miles north of Baghdad that has been a focal point of tensions since the Kurds held a September 25 referendum on independence.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of much of the province in 2014, when IS militants swept across northern Iraq and the army collapsed.
The accusation was quickly rejected by Kurdish officials later on Sunday.
Bagdad has rejected any discussion of increasing the area of autonomous region to surrounding provinces until the independence referendum is annulled.
Even though results of the poll were not legally binding, voters living in Kurdish-controlled areas, including Kirkuk, voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession, prompting Kurdish officials to call for negotiated concessions from Baghdad.
"The orders are to surround K1 and oil fields and stop and call on the Kurdish forces to retreat", said one of the counterterrorism officers who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.
The Kurdish-held multi-ethnic region of Kirkuk has emerged as a flashpoint in the crisis as it is claimed by both sides.
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