Iraq says vast areas taken from Kurds in Kirkuk, Kurds deny gains

Kurdish Peshmerga commander in Kirkuk Huseyin Yazdanpena

Kurdish forces were withdrawing from Kirkuk on Monday as Iraqi federal forces moved in to the disputed city and seized oil fields and other infrastructure amid soaring tensions over last month's Kurdish vote for independence.

The federal forces have restored control of Kirkuk military airport, Al Hurriya Air Base and other vital sites in Kirkuk upon directives from the Iraqi leadership.

Exports of about 600,000 barrels a day of crude from Kirkuk's oil fields and from deposits inside the adjacent Kurdish region continued as usual through a Kurd-controlled pipeline to Turkey, according to a person familiar with the matter, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

Tensions are escalating between Baghdad and the region of Kurdistan after the Kurds held the September controversial referendum on the independence of the Kurdistan region and the disputed areas.

Washington called for calm on both sides, seeking to avert an all-out conflict between Baghdad and the Kurds that would open a whole new front in Iraq's 14-year civil war and potentially draw in regional powers such as Turkey and Iran.

Kurdish officials accuse part of the forces belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish parties, of "treason" in not resisting the Iraqi assault.

The rapid advance aims to retake oil and military sites that Kurdish forces took over during the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group.

The Defense Department remains focused on the fight against ISIS, a terrorist organization that threatens the states in the region and the worldwide community, Manning said.

The elite, USA -trained "Counter Terrorism Service, the 9th armored division and Federal Police have taken control of vast areas of Kirkuk without confrontations", it said, adding that oilfields and Kurdish military positions were captured.

Thousands of residents were seen fleeing Kurdish districts of Kirkuk City, heading in buses and cars toward the autonomous Kurdistan region.

In addition to harboring Kurdish troops, the K-1 military base before the advance was also home to a contingent of USA -led coalition forces.

An Iraqi army convoy lines up south of Kirkuk city.

However, ahead of the deadline Kurdish forces have voluntarily left Bashir and Taza, but remained at Kirkuk airport and K-1 military base, which are now the primary targets for Baghdad.

The action in Iraq helped spur a jump in world oil prices on Monday.

Baghdad has built up troops on the outskirts of the city in recent days.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Abadi, directed the Armed Forces to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with residents of Kirkuk and the Peshmerga forces. On Monday, an Iraqi government spokesman confirmed that Gen. Qassem Soleimani - who commands the IRGC's elite Quds Force that focuses on foreign operations - was serving with Hashd al-Shaabi as a "military adviser". Washington, allied with the Kurds for decades, had pleaded in vain for them to cancel the vote, arguing that it could lead to regional war and the breakup of Iraq. While Barzani's KDP strongly supported the independence referendum, some PUK figures were more circumspect.

A Kurdish customs official, Shakhwan Abu Bakr, earlier said that the border had been closed to all people and goods at the three crossings into Iran.

"We are warning all sides against damaging stability and undermining the fight against ISIS", Galloway said, using an alternative acronym for the Daesh terrorist group, which still maintains a limited presence in war-torn Iraq.

The status of Kirkuk and fate of the Kurds were left unsettled 14 years ago when a USA -led invasion toppled Saddam.

"The referendum came at a time where the country is fighting against terrorism that has come in the form of ISIL". And while Iraq's oil revenues are supposed to be shared, disputes among the provinces have often held up transfers, leading parties to find leverage in holding the fields.

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