Kurdistan region accuses Baghdad of preparing 'major attack' on Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk
Iraqi forces and Shia paramilitaries, known as Popular Mobilisation, are deployed south and west of Kirkuk, in areas previously under the control of Islamic State, the KRG’s Security Council said in a tweet.
“We’re receiving dangerous messages that Iraqi forces, including Popular Mobilisation and Federal Police, are preparing a major attack .. on Kurdistan,” the tweet said.
But 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.
The comments followed a call by Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday, for unity between Peshmerga and Iraqi forces in disputed areas.
Tensions between the KRG and Baghdad have been running especially high since the Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence in a referendum the central government has deemed unconstitutional, last month.
Kirkuk is an oil-rich, multi-ethnic province with Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen 280 kilometres north of Baghdad designated since 2003 as 'disputed'. But Kurdish nationalists claim Kirkuk as their own.
According to reports, Kurdish civilians in the city are also purchasing weapons, in anticipation of the possibility the Kurdish armed factions might withdraw from the city.
"We don't want to be the weakest link in the city, we want to be prepared for the worst-case scenario," Mohammed Oglo, a Turkmen resident, told The New Arab.
"We will not attack anyone but we are monitoring the activities of Kurdish racist groups in Turkmen neighbourhoods," he added, saying the city is fully controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga and Asayish (police) who are “biased".
Earlier this week, Iraqi Vice President Iyad Allawi warned of a 'civil war' in Kirkuk if no compromise is found. Allawi said he called on all sides to show self restraint and resolve the differences quickly.
"Kirkuk could become the spark that ignites the conflict in northern Iraq," he added.
Since last month’s Kurdish Independence referendum Baghdad has been piling pressure on Iraqi Kurds to reverse the independence vote. It has taken a number of measures against Erbil including taking control of borders and a ban on international flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan’s airports.