The two sides exchanged artillery fire early Monday, south of the city. Baghdad aims to retake military bases and oil fields which Kurdish peshmerga fighters took in 2014 during the fightback against Isis. Three major oil fields produce some 250,000 barrels per day, accounting for 40 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's oil exports.
Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Iraqi and Kurdish forces exchanged artillery fire early Monday south of the city of Kirkuk, after central government forces began a "major operation" to take control of a Kurdish military base and oil fields.
Shortly before, state television announced that government troops had taken "large areas" of the province from Kurdish peshmerga fighters "without fighting", although military sources on both sides reported exchange of Katyusha rocket fire to the south of the provincial capital.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said this week that he was "not going... to make war on our Kurdish citizens", has "given orders to armed forces to take over security in Kirkuk," state television said.
Iraqi troops will "secure bases and government facilities in Kirkuk province" the government said. They are aiming to retake military bases and oil fields which Kurdish peshmerga fighters took in 2014 during the fightback against the Islamic State jihadist group.
Multiple peshmergas were injured in the clashes and hospitalised in Kirkuk, a local security source said.
On 25 September, the autonomous region in northern Iraq held a referendum on independence, which ended with an overwhelming victory in favor (over 90% yes). The vote was also held in the controversial territory of Kirkuk. Baghdad has declared the referendum -- held despite international opposition -- illegal.
The peshmergas "have withdrawn from Tal Al-Ward (southeast of Kirkuk) and from the industrial zone in the suburbs of Kirkuk without fighting," said Hemin Hawrami, adviser to President Massoud Barzani.
The crisis between Erbil and Baghdad has raised fears of fresh chaos just as the country's forces are on the verge of routing IS from the last territory it controls in Iraq. Earlier Sunday, Iraq's National Security Council said it viewed as a "declaration of war" the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk", including fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
For their part the Iraqi forces have said that they have no wish to enter Kirkuk but that they wish to retake military positions and infrastructure which were under their control before their troops withdrew in the face of hostility from the jihadists.
Long claimed by the Kurds as part of their historic territory, the province has emerged as the main flashpoint in the dispute. The Kurds control the city of Kirkuk and three major oil fields in the province that produce some 250,000 barrels per day, accounting for 40 percent of Iraqi Kurdistan's oil exports. The fields would provide crucial revenue to Baghdad, which has been left cash-strapped from the global fall in oil prices and three years of battle against IS. Iraq is also demanding the return of a military base and a nearby airport, according to the Kurds.