Iraqi Kurdish Fighters Deployed to Kirkuk Amid ‘Threats’ by Government Forces

Iraqi army reinforcements drive down a road, linking Hawija to Kirkuk, near the village of Khabbaz last week. | Photo Credit: AFP

Thousands of Kurdish fighters have been deployed to Iraq’s disputed Kirkuk region, officials say, amid fears that government forces want to retake it.

The autonomous Kurdistan Region’s Vice-President, Kosrat Rasul, said it was responding to “threats” by the army.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he would not use the army against Iraqi citizens, but convoys were seen heading towards Kirkuk late on Thursday.

The move comes two weeks after the Kurds held an independence referendum.

Voters living in Kurdish-controlled areas – including Kirkuk – voted overwhelmingly in favour of secession, prompting calls from Kurdish officials for negotiations.

But Mr Abadi said the referendum was illegal and demanded it be annulled.

Kirkuk is an oil-rich province claimed by both the Kurds and the central government. It is thought to have a Kurdish majority, but its provincial capital has large Arab and Turkmen populations.

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