Iraqi state television said early Monday that Iraqi forces had begun an operation to seize the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields, despite weeks of urgent efforts by the United States to keep tensions between its allies from boiling over into another war in the Middle East.
Baghdad wants to retake bases and oil fields taken by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in 2014 when militants from Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) swept across northern Iraq and the army collapsed.
Kirkuk is not part of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region.
The Iraqi government earlier said it had launched an operation to “secure bases” and “federal installations”.
The Iraqi troops were advancing alongside government-backed Shia militias south of Kirkuk city and intended to take control of oil fields and an airbase, Kurdish officials reported.
The Iraqi military operation would be the first use of military force by the government in Baghdad in response to an independence vote last month by the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Both the Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga have been trained and equipped by the United States as part of the American-led coalition battling Daesh in the country. But the other major players in the conflict — the Shia militias that make up a considerable amount of Iraq’s fighting strength — have largely been trained and supported by Iran.