Kurds reinforce oil-rich Kirkuk amid tension with Iraq government

The Peshmerga's Kirkuk commander, Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, said his forces had withdrawn from areas they had recently entered during fighting against Daesh in the west of the province.

The Iraqi army launched an operation to retake Kurdish-held positions around the disputed oil city of Kirkuk on Friday amid a bitter row with the Kurds over a vote for independence last month.

Iraq's interior minister, Qassem al-Araji, also denied to The New Arab denied any military operations in Kirkuk, saying the troop movements were part of a "re-deployment of federal forces.in accordance to the lines that stood on 9 June 2014" - before the Iraqi army abandoned the area as the Islamic State group swept through northern Iraq.

Some local and worldwide news outlets had earlier reported that the Iraqi army had launched fresh operations in southern Kirkuk aimed at capturing areas now held by forces loyal to the Erbil-based Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

They said the photos were taken "inside Kirkuk".

Tension has steadily mounted between Baghdad and Erbil since September 25, when Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas - and in a handful of disputed areas - voted to declare political independence. Haidar Al-Abadi went on to call for joint administration between the Iraqi government and the KRG over the disputed areas in Kirkuk under the leadership of the federal government in Baghdad, without giving further details on how this would work.

According to poll results announced by the KRG, nearly 93 percent of those who cast ballots voted in favor of independence.

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, Baghdad banned global flights from entering KRG-controlled areas and closed all foreign diplomatic missions based in the Kurdish region.

The illegitimate referendum had faced sharp opposition from most regional and worldwide actors, many of whom warned that it would distract from Iraq's ongoing fight against terrorism and further destabilize the already-volatile region.

Vanessa Coleman