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Iraqi Kurds send reinforcements to Kirkuk amid army 'threats'

From BBC - October 13, 2017

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.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of much of the province in 2014, when Islamic State (IS) militants swept across northern Iraq and the army collapsed.

The Iraqi parliament asked Mr Abadi to deploy troops to Kirkuk and other disputed areas after the referendum result was announced, but he said last week that he would accept them being governed by a "joint administration" and that he did not want an armed confrontation.

On Thursday, the prime minister and the Iraqi military reiterated that they had no plans for a military operation in Kirkuk and were focused on recapturing the last IS foothold in Iraq, around Rawa and al-Qaim near the border with Syria.

"We wo not use our army against our people or to launch a war against our Kurdish citizens," Mr Abadi said in a statement, according to Reuters news agency.

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