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Iraqi forces 'launch major Kirkuk operation'

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 15/10/2017
Iraqi forces seen on Sunday in Taza Khurmata on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images] © Provided by Al Jazeera Iraqi forces seen on Sunday in Taza Khurmata on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images]

Iraqi security forces have launched a "major operation" in Kirkuk to take control of a strategic Kurdish military base and oil fields, according Kurdish and Iraqi officials.

The aim of the advance early on Monday was taking control of the K1 airbase, west of Kirkuk, Lieutenant Colonel Salah el-Kinani, of the Iraqi army's 9th armoured division, told Reuters news agency.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council said that Iraqi forces and members of the Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF) - paramilitary units largely made up of Iran-trained Shia militias - were advancing from Taza, south of Kirkuk, in a "major operation".

"Their intention is to enter the city and take over (the) K1 base and oil fields," it said in a post on Twitter.

The operation comes as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters gathered to the south of Kirkuk amid an escalating row between the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. 

Neither side reported any armed confrontation one hour after the initial report of the Iraqi advance.

Oil-rich Kirkuk is claimed by both the Kurdish Regional Government and Baghdad.

Tensions between the two sides have been running especially high since Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for secession in a September 25 referendum that Baghdad rejected as illegal.

On Sunday, Kurdish leaders rejected a demand by Baghdad to cancel the outcome of the referendum as a precondition for talks to resolve the dispute. 

Kurdish Peshmerga forces gained control of Kirkuk in 2014 when ISIL fighters overran around one third of Iraq and the Iraqi army's northern divisions disintegrated.

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