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Kurdistan Sends Peshmerga Troops to Kirkuk Amid 'Threats' by Iraqi Army
13 October 2017, 08:07 | Opal Carroll
Iraq army 'launches operation to retake Kirkuk' from Kurdish authorities
It is calling for its neighbours to shut the landlocked region's borders.
The surge in tensions comes two weeks after Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the federal government condemned as illegal. Washington, long friendly with the Kurds, had also called on them before the referendum to cancel it.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is expected to visit Baghdad on Sunday to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi.
The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) deployed thousands of fighters around the disputed oil city of Kirkuk on Friday for fear of an attack by Iraqi government troops and militia, a senior official said.
Baghdad has denied it has plans for a military move against the Kurds. "Intelligence shows intentions to take over nearby oil fields, airport and military base", it said in a statement.
The central government of Baghdad lost control of the area in June 2014 after the occupation of Daesh, an acronym in Arabic for an Islamic state, and then Iraqi Kurdish forces (Peshmerga) evicted the terrorists and resumed it.
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Kurdish policemen look on towards banners supporting the referendum for independence of Kurdistan in Erbil, Iraq September 24, 2017.
Peshmerga forces loyal to the KRG now dominate areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil (including Kirkuk), which they overran following Daesh's invasion of the country in mid-2014.
The Kirkuk province along with parts of the provinces of Nineveh, Saladin (northern Iraq) and Diyala (eastern Iraq) are disputed between Baghdad and the KRG and inhabited by a mixture of ethnic Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen. "At least 6,000 additional Peshmerga were deployed since Thursday night to face the Iraqi forces' threat".
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 USA support.
IS also holds areas on the Syrian side of the border, but is retreating there in the face of two sets of hostile forces - a USA -backed, Kurdish-led coalition and Syrian government troops with foreign Shi'ite militias backed by Iran and Russian Federation.
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