Kurds boost troop presence as Baghdad eyes Kirkuk

Kurds boost troop presence as Baghdad eyes Kirkuk

They join tens of thousands of Kurdish peshmerga soldiers already stationed in and around Kirkuk, Rasul said.

The Peshmerga, as the Kurdish force is known, withdrew from positions in the areas of Taza and Bashir, about 10 km south of Kirkuk, overnight, they said.

There are five oil wells in the Kirkuk region, two of which are controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Haidar Al-Abadi went on to call for joint administration between the Iraqi government and the KRG over the disputed areas in Kirkuk under the leadership of the federal government in Baghdad, without giving further details on how this would work.

Kirkuk lies just outside the KRG autonomous territory but Peshmerga forces moved in when the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of an Islamic State onslaught in 2014, preventing the region's oil fields from falling under jihadist control. USA coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told The Associated Press that military movements in the region were in line with recent operations to clear the jihadists from Hawija, a town 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of Kirkuk.

Iraq's tough line towards the Kurds has the support of neighbours Turkey and Iran, which strongly oppose the secessionist movement given their own sizable Kurdish minorities.

Baghdad, in coordination with Ankara and Tehran, has dismissed the overwhelming "yes" to independence vote, threatening sanctions, worldwide isolation, and even a military response if Kurds refuse to cancel the results of the referendum.

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President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman said on Thursday that Turkey would gradually close border crossings with northern Iraq in coordination with the central Iraqi government and Iran.

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

Al-Abadi said: "I warn of the actions of the region's military mobilization in Kirkuk, it is unsafe".

Baghdad has sought to isolate the region since the September 25 referendum, including banning worldwide flights and pushing for a halt to crude oil sales. At the time, peshmerga fighters were among the only groups to stand their ground against and eventually repel the IS militants.

"There are threats by the Iraqi Army that has deployed forces near Kirkuk supposedly to attack Kirkuk".

Kurdish officials say they have been alarmed by military movements outside Kirkuk.

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