Iraq army denies launching 'operation' to retake disputed Kirkuk province
Iraqi troops launched operations on Friday to retake Kurdish positions in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, claimed an AFP report, as tensions continue to soar after an independence vote last month.
"Iraqi armed force are advancing to retake their military positions that were taken over during the events of June 2014," a general told AFP by telephone, asking not to be identified.
However, Iraq's Joint Operations Command denied any operation was taking place calling the reports 'fake information'.
The denials have not defused the tensions in the area, however, as tens of thousands of Kurdish fighters have been deployed in Kirkuk to confront possible "threats" from Iraqi forces, Kurdish TV channel Rudaw said on Friday, citing the vice-president of the Kurdistan region, Kosrat Rasul.
"Tens of thousands of Kurdish Peshmerga and security forces are already stationed in and around Kirkuk," he said.
"At least 6,000 additional Peshmerga were deployed since Thursday night to face the Iraqi forces’ threat."
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said this week that Iraqi government forces were preparing a major military attack on Kurdish forces in the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and other parts of northern Iraq.
The accusations were dismissed by an Iraqi military spokesman, according to Reuters, noting government troops were instead preparing to battle Islamic State militants from a border area with Syria in the west of Iraq.
Kirkuk, populated by Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Christians is one of 15 ethnically mixed areas in northern Iraq that participated in the Kurdish referendum for independence on 25 September.
Kurdish forces took over the city of Kirkuk in 2014, when the Iraqi army fled fighting during the Islamic State's offensive in northern Iraq.
Many Kurds and non-Kurds in the region expressed fears before the vote that Baghdad would attempt to regain control of Kirkuk after the referendum and send in the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias, who are stationed just outside the province.