Iraqi forces took control of “vast areas” in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk without opposition from Kurdish Peshmerga, state TV said on Monday.
The announcement came after reports that Iraqi forces began moving at around midnight toward an important airbase and oilfields located west of the city.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave orders to the security forces “to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with the population and the Peshmerga,” the TV said.
Iraqi forces began moving at midnight on Sunday towards oil fields and an important air base held by Kurdish forces near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Iraqi and Kurdish officials said.
The object of the advance was taking control of the K1 airbase, west of Kirkuk, Lieutenant Colonel Salah el-Kinani of the Iraqi army's 9th armored division told Reuters.
“Iraqi forces and Popular Mobilization are now advancing from Taza, south of Kirkuk, in a major operation; their intention is to enter the city and take over (the) K1 base and oil fields,” said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Security Council.
Baghdad said Sunday that PKK fighters were among Kurdish forces in a standoff with the Iraqi army in the disputed oil province of Kirkuk, in what it said amounted to a “declaration of war”.
The National Security Council said it viewed as a “dangerous escalation” and a “declaration of war” the presence of “fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk”, including fighters from Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“It is impossible to remain silent” faced with “a declaration of war towards Iraqis and government forces”, the council headed by Iraqi PM Abadi, said in a statement.
US urges Iraqi, Kurdish forces to avoid escalation
The Pentagon urged Iraqi and Kurdish forces on Sunday to “avoid escalatory actions” and to turn to dialogue to defuse tensions and resolve their differences.
“We oppose violence from any party, and urge against destabilizing actions that distract from the fight against ISIS and further undermine Iraq’s stability,” Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal said when asked about an Iraqi state TV report that Iraqi forces had taken control of parts of the oil-rich Kirkuk region without opposition from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
“We continue to support a unified Iraq,” she said. “Despite the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unfortunate decision to pursue a unilateral referendum, dialogue remains the best option to defuse ongoing tensions and longstanding issues, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.”
She also called on “all actors” in the region to focus on the common threat of ISIS and avoid stoking tensions among the Iraqi people. Iraqi and Kurdish forces have both been trained and armed by the United States.
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