Iraq Issues Warrants for Kurdish Officials Involved in Independence Vote

Iraq Issues Warrants for Kurdish Officials Involved in Independence Vote

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

The Iraqi Army's military operation south of the Kirkuk province is not directed against the Kurdish Peshmerga paramilitary forces, an aide to the governor of the disputed province, Abdurrahman Talabani, said.

There are five oil wells in the Kirkuk region, two of which are controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

The dispute has escalated since the Kurds voted for independence in a non-binding referendum last month.

Kirkuk is one of several regions that peshmerga fighters took over from the Iraqi army in 2014 when jihadists from the Islamic State group swept through much of northern and western Iraq. US 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.

Baghdad's tough stance towards the Kurds is supported by neighbors Turkey and Iran, both of which have large Kurdish minorities and oppose any Kurdish secessionist movements.

Iraqi and Peshmerga forces have been operating in close proximity in northern Iraq in the US -backed war on IS.

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Tensions in Kirkuk have been running high ever since the governor, Najm Eddine Karim, chose to let a referendum on Kurdish independence take place across the province, also called Kirkuk.

"We will not allow anyone to attack (Kirkuk)", Arass Faqih, another civilian holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle, told AFP.

The peshmerga's Kirkuk commander, Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, said his forces had withdrawn from areas they had recently entered during fighting against IS in the west of the province.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly said he has no plans to go further and actually attack the territory.

Baghdad has sought to isolate the region since the September 25 referendum, including banning global flights and pushing for a halt to crude oil sales.

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

Iraqi army reinforcements drive down a road, linking Hawija to Kirkuk, near the village of Khabbaz on October 7, 2017. This stopped the region's oil fields from falling under jihadi control.

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