Iraqi troops advance on Kurds-controlled oil fields in Kirkuk

Iraqi troops advance on Kurds-controlled oil fields in Kirkuk

Iraqi troops launched operations on Friday to retake Kurdish-held positions in the disputed oil province of Kirkuk as tensions soar after an independence vote last month, a general told AFP.

In response, Kurdish forces pulled back from outer defensive lines and entrenched behind a major irrigation channel, with Iraqi forces now only about 100 yards to the west, Abdulla said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Oct 5 that his government wanted to avoid clashes with the Kurds, but Popular Mobilisation leaders have repeatedly threatened to oust Kurdish forces from Kirkuk.

An Iraqi military official denied that troop movements around Kirkuk were part of an all-out assault on the Peshmerga.

Kurdish commanders said they had rejected an early morning deadline set for October 15 by Baghdad for Peshmerga fighters to relinquish positions they had taken during the fight against Islamic State (IS) extremists.

The group's last territory in Iraq is now a stretch skirting the western border with Syria following the fall of the town of Hawija and surrounding areas on October 5 in an offensive by US-backed Iraqi forces.

The referendum was held in the three provinces of the official autonomous Kurdish region, but also in adjacent Kurdish-held areas, including Kirkuk.

"We are getting ready for the battle in al-Qaim, we're not concerned by confrontations other than with Daesh", he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Iraqi forces captured Mosul from Islamic State in July, after a grueling nine-month US -backed offensive with the participation of Kurdish Peshmerga. The Peshmerga deployment prevented Kirkuk's oil fields from falling into militant hands.

Abadi's government, seeking to keep the country together, has taken measures to isolate the KRG, including a ban on direct global flights to the region.

The Kurdish leadership rejected yesterday the Iraqi government demand that it cancel the outcome of a Sept 25 independence referendum as a pre-condition for talks to resolve the dispute.

Neighbors Turkey and Iran, which have large Kurdish minorities, also vehemently opposed the referendum.

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