The Peshmerga deployed amid KRG fears of Iraqi government troops and militia moving against the city. The Iraqi military denied it had launched operations south of Kirkuk, but said it was moving to mop up in areas recently liberated from Daesh.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces detain Daesh militants southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq October 5, 2017.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces detain Daesh militants southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq October 5, 2017. (Reuters)

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) deployed thousands of fighters around the disputed oil city of Kirkuk on Friday for fear of an attack by Iraqi government troops and militia, a senior official said.

"Thousands of heavily armed peshmerga units are now completely in their positions around Kirkuk," a top aide to KRG president Masoud Barzani tweeted.

"Their order is to defend at any cost," Hemin Hawrami said.

The alert came after KRG authorities accused the Iraqi government of massing forces in readiness for an offensive to seize Kurdish-held oil fields around Kirkuk, as tensions soar after a vote for independence last month.

They accused the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), paramilitary units dominated by Iran-trained Shia militia, of massing fighters in two mainly Shia Turkmen areas south of Kirkuk in a bid to provoke a confrontation.

However, The Iraqi military command, in a statement, denied the Iraqi army was launching an operation to retake the city.

It also denied reports it had launched fresh operations south of Kirkuk with the aim of capturing Peshmerga-held areas in the province’s north.

“We deny reports circulated by media outlets about the launch of military operations south of Kirkuk,” the army’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement broadcast on state television.

“Our forces are still conducting mop-up and search operations in recently liberated areas,” it added, referring to Kirkuk’s southwestern Hawija district, which the army retook from Daesh earlier this month.

The surge in tension comes two weeks after voters in the northern region of Iraq overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the federal government condemned as illegal.

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

Baghdad continues to reject decades-old Kurdish ambitions to incorporate Kirkuk and other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their semi-autonomous region.

Source: AFP