Kurds put forces on alert for Iraq attack near Kirkuk

Kurds put forces on alert for Iraq attack near Kirkuk

On Friday, as the Iraqi army launched an operation to retake Kurdish-held positions around Kirkuk, some civilians took up arms and deployed on the streets. On the eve of the independence referendum, the Kurds intensified the concentration of their forces in Kirkuk.

Kirkuk is one of several regions that peshmerga fighters took over from the Iraqi army in 2014 when jihadists from the Islamic State group swept through much of northern and western Iraq.

There are five oil wells in the Kirkuk region, two of which are controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

Baghdad's tough stance towards the Kurds is supported by neighbors Turkey and Iran, both of which have large Kurdish minorities and oppose any Kurdish secessionist movements.

The area around al-Qaim, near the Syrian border, is the last part of Iraq still under the control of IS, which overran a third of the country in 2014 but has been driven back by a series of Iraqi military offensives with US support.

"We will not allow anyone to attack (Kirkuk)", Arass Faqih, another civilian holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle, told AFP.

Anadolu Agency reported that a Pasmarge commander said they would respond to any possible intervention.


But he warned: "If the Iraqi army advances, we will fight".

On the following day, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi refuted the claims.

"These forces are approximately 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) from Peshmerga forces".

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, Baghdad banned worldwide flights from entering KRG-controlled areas and closed all foreign diplomatic missions based in the Kurdish region.

IS overran a third of Iraq in 2014. More recently IS has been driven back by a series of Iraqi military offensives with United States support.

The alert came after the Kurdish authorities accused the Iraqi government of massing forces in readiness for an offensive to seize Kurdish-held oilfields around Kirkuk, as tensions soar after a vote for independence on September 25.

"The security situation is stable and there have been no incidents so far", said police chief, General Khattab Aref of Kirkuk city, home to more than a million Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

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