’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region has deployed tens of thousands of Peshmerga forces to the Kirkuk
region amid tensions with the central government over a controversial secession referendum it held last month.
Kurdish TV channel Rudaw cited the region’s Vice President Kosrat Rasul on Friday as saying that the deployment was meant “to confront possible threats from Iraqi forces.”
“Tens of thousands of Kurdish Peshmerga and security forces are already stationed in and around Kirkuk,” he said. “At least 6,000 additional Peshmerga have been deployed since Thursday night to face the Iraqi forces’ threat.”
The deployment came amid claims that the Iraqi government had sent troops to retake Kurdish-held positions in the disputed oil province but Baghdad denied those allegations.
Baghdad has adopted a range of punitive measures against the Kurdistan region, which defied international calls and held a referendum on separation from the mainland on September 25.
Those measures include banning international flights from the northern region and calling for a halt to its crude oil sales.
On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denied an attack plan against the positions of Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
“We are not going to use our army to fight our people or to make war on our Kurdish citizens or others,” Abadi said in televised comments broadcast on state-run al-Iraqiya television network.
Those words of assurance came after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) claimed a significant Iraqi military
build-up south of Kirkuk “including tanks, artillery, Humvees and mortars.”
Earlier on Friday, French news
agency AFP quoted an unnamed military general as saying that Iraqi troops had launched offensives to retake Kurdish-held positions in Kirkuk, but the Iraqi military was quick to reject the claim.
Baghdad says its troops deployed to the area are involved in operations against Daesh and have nothing to do with the Kurds.
Kirkuk is not part of the Kurdistan region. It is divided along the ethnic lines, where Kurds comprise roughly one-third of its population, where Arabs and Turkmens account for the other two-thirds.
In the lead-up to the controversial vote, Kurdistan’s President Massoud Barzani paid a visit to Kirkuk in mid-September, drawing harsh criticism from officials of the Iraqi central government.
The international community and Iraq’s neighbors have also sternly warned that a potential separation from Iraq would throw the Arab country, which is already busy with battles against Daesh terrorists, into more chaos.