Iraqi forces said Monday they had taken control of roads and infrastructure from Kurdish fighters near the disputed city of Kirkuk as tensions soar following a controversial independence referendum.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which groups all pro-government forces, said it was making progress in its operation to “restore security” in Kirkuk.
Iraqi forces are aiming to retake military bases and oil fields which Kurdish peshmerga fighters took during the fightback against the Islamic State jihadist group (IS).
Central government forces took control of two bridges, two roads and an industrial zone to the southwest of Kirkuk as well as gas facilities, a power station, a refinery and a police station, the JOC said.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces exchanged artillery fire early Monday south of the city, after government forces began a “major operation” in the oil-rich province.
The offensive follows a standoff between Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army prompted by the September 25 non-binding referendum that produced a resounding “yes” for independence for the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
Baghdad has declared the referendum — held despite international opposition — illegal.
Both sides are key US allies in the battle against the jihadists, and the crisis has raised fears of fresh chaos just as Iraqi forces are on the verge of routing IS from the last territory it controls in the country.