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Iraqi, Kurdish Troops In Tense Standoff As Deadline Nears

16 October 2017

The National Security Council headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said it viewed as a "dangerous escalation" the presence of armed men "not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk", including PKK fighters.

Iraqi forces and their allies began moving toward Kirkuk Thursday night, aiming for military bases to the northwest and southwest of the city, Kurdish commander Gen. Pirot Abdulla told ABC News.

Peshmerga forces annexed Kirkuk and the surrounding area after halting ISIS fighters in their sweep across northern Iraq in 2014 as Iraqi military forces crumbled.

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"The orders are to surround K1 and oil fields and stop and call on the Kurdish forces to retreat", said one of the counterterrorism officers who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

For their part the Iraqi forces have said that they have no wish to enter Kirkuk but that they wish to retake military positions and infrastructure that were under their control before their troops retreated in the face of hostility from the Islamic State (IS) militants. US coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told The Associated Press that military movements in the region were in line with recent operations to clear the terrorist group's fighters from Hawija, a town roughly 40 miles west of Kirkuk.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces moved into Kirkuk before IS reached the area, and have since held the province.

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The Kurds have repeatedly called for negotiations following the referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for independence.

Kurdish leaders who met to discuss the crisis in the town of Dokan renewed their offer to "resolve peacefully" the crisis with Baghdad, Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani's aide, Mr Hemin Hawrami, said.

"The deployment follows foreign meddling and provocation, and threatening statements by Iraqi military and political officials, citing attacks against the people of Kurdistan", the statement said, adding that the worldwide community "must understand that left unaddressed the situation will lead to grave consequences and disaster".

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"We are getting ready for the battle in al-Qaim, we're not concerned by confrontations other than with Daesh", he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Iraqi, Kurdish Troops In Tense Standoff As Deadline Nears