Published: Fri, October 13, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Kurd forces move back defence line around Kirkuk in disengagement effort

Kurd forces move back defence line around Kirkuk in disengagement effort

Some 6,000 extra troops have arrived in the region since Thursday, Kosrat Rasul, vice president of the autonomous Kurdistan region, said on Friday.

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.

Iraq's government has taken a series of measures to isolate the region since the Kurds' Sept. 25 referendum on independence, including banning worldwide flights from going there and pushing for a halt to its crude oil sales.

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.

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.

The area around al-Qaim, near the Syrian border, is the last part of Iraq still under the control of IS, which overran a third of the country in 2014 but has been driven back by a series of Iraqi military offensives with USA support.

The peshmerga's Kirkuk commander, Sheikh Jaafar Mustafa, said his forces had withdrawn from areas they had entered during their fight against IS in the west of the province last week.

But he warned: "If the Iraqi army advances, we will fight".

Mr Hawrami urged the worldwide community to intervene and call on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to "order PMF to pull back if he can or if they listen to him".

"These forces are approximately 3 kilometers from peshmerga forces".

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, Baghdad banned global flights from entering KRG-controlled areas and closed all foreign diplomatic missions based in the Kurdish region.

Sources in Kirkuk also confirmed to Al Jazeera the movement of Iraqi forces on two fronts in Kirkuk, in the south and west of the city. "Some Kurds describe Kirkuk as their Jerusalem, and they are saying that they are not going to give up this city".

Southern Kirkuk is a strategic prize for both the Kurds and the federal government as it holds coveted oil fields.

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