Published: Fri, October 13, 2017
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Baghdad prepares for Kirkuk attack, Kurdish Pres. Aide

Baghdad prepares for Kirkuk attack, Kurdish Pres. Aide

Hemin Hawrami Tweeted early Friday that Hashd al-Shaabi fighters were preparing "to attack oil wells and areas controlled by Peshmerga forces", loyal to northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

Some residents queued at petrol stations with jerry cans to fill up, while other civilians have begun taking up arms.

On Sept. 25, Iraqis in KRG-held areas - and in several areas disputed between Baghdad and Erbil, including Kirkuk - voted on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq.

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. Baghdad has demanded the Kurds return to the city to federal authorities, a dispute that has escalated since the Kurds voted for independence in a non-binding referendum last month.

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.

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

The Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga have been allies in the US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group.

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

Rassoul Omar, another peshmerga general, said his fighters were mobilising south of Kirkuk.

Iraqi army reinforcements drive down a road, linking Hawija to Kirkuk, near the village of Khabbaz on October 7, 2017.

Some troops were busy daubing paint on cement blocks which had been stamped with the Kurdish flags.

According to Kirkuk governor Najm Eddine Karim, high-ranking peshmerga commanders are on the ground "ready to defend Kirkuk".

Polling was held in the three provinces that have long formed an autonomous Kurdish region as well as neighbouring areas, including Kirkuk, that Kurdish forces seized from ISIL during the fightback against the jihadists' 2014 offensive through areas north and west of Baghdad.

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