Kurdish VP: Thousands of troops sent to Kirkuk to face "Iraqi threat"

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They join tens of thousands of Kurdish peshmerga soldiers already stationed in and around Kirkuk, Rasul said.

On Friday, as the Iraqi army launched an operation to retake Kurdish-held positions around Kirkuk, some civilians took up arms and deployed on the streets.

"Certainly the KRG government is very anxious", he said.

On Wednesday, Iraq issued the warrants against Hendreen Mohammed, the chairman of the KRG's referendum commission, and two aides for violating an Iraqi court ruling that renders the independence vote "invalid" despite a vast majority of Kurds voting in favor of independence, adds the news agency.

The Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga have been allies in the US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group.

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An Iraqi military spokesman said recent Iraqi military movements near Kirkuk were meant to "inspect and secure" the nearby region of Hawija, which was recaptured from IS last week.

Iraq's tough line towards the Kurds has the support of neighbours Turkey and Iran, which strongly oppose the secessionist movement given their own sizable Kurdish minorities.

President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman said on Thursday that Turkey would gradually close border crossings with northern Iraq in coordination with the central Iraqi government and Iran.

Tensions in Kirkuk have been running high ever since the governor, Najm Eddine Karim, made a decision to let a referendum on Kurdish independence take place across the province, also called Kirkuk.

The peshmerga's Kirkuk commander, Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, said his forces had withdrawn from areas they had recently entered during fighting against IS in the west of the province.

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Mr Hawrami urged the global community to intervene and call on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to "order PMF to pull back if he can or if they listen to him".

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 security situation is stable and there have been no incidents so far", said police chief, General Khattab Aref of Kirkuk city, home to more than a million Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

"There are threats by the Iraqi Army that has deployed forces near Kirkuk supposedly to attack Kirkuk". This stopped the region's oil fields from falling under jihadi control.

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