Kurdistan region says Iraqi forces preparing major attack in oil-rich Kirkuk

Iraqi government denies operation claims to Kirkuk

Joint Iraqi forces today began to advance to the northern province of Kirkuk, held by Iraqi Kurdistan, with the aim of recovering the oil wells of that northern region.

Kurdish authorities said they were sending thousands of their Peshmerga forces toward the city, while the Iraqi Army's 9th Armored Division claimed its own forces were sweeping into positions that the Kurds were abandoning.

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.

Kirkuk, a city of more than a million people, is outside the KRG territory, but Peshmerga forces have been stationed in the city since 2014, when Iraqi security forces suffered setbacks against IS attacks.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have ignored a warning from Iraqi military forces to withdraw from a strategic junction in the southern city of Kirkuk, a Kurdish security officer said, Sunday (10/15/2017).

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said there can be no further discussion of the Kurds' longstanding demands to incorporate Kirkuk and other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their autonomous region until the independence vote is annulled.

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For their part the Iraqi forces have said that they have no wish to enter Kirkuk but that they wish to retake military positions and infrastructure that were under their control before their troops retreated in the face of hostility from the Islamic State (IS) militants.

Army, police and forces from Iraq's popular mobilization units, which include Shiite militias backed by Iran, have massed in the area, as Kurdish forces furiously dug defenses. The city and the surrounding area, including the oil fields, are under Kurdish control.

The KRG and the Shi'ite-led central government in Baghdad have been at loggerheads since the September 25 vote and its loud call for Kurdish independence.

"Our orders now are not to engage them but if they advance further we will have to act", he said.

The dispute over ownership of Kirkuk escalated in the wake of Kurdistan's independence referendum held last month.

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