Iraq army 'launches operation to retake Kirkuk' from Kurdish authorities

Iraq PM denies attack plan as tensions rise with Kurds

Crisis talks on Sunday made little headway in resolving an armed standoff between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the province.

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. The General Command of Peshmerga Forces released a statement saying the situation "has unsafe indications for war".

In a statement published after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and attended by top military and security commanders, the government said it will seek to impose its authority over Kirkuk and other disputed areas.

An Iraqi military official denied that troop movements around Kirkuk were part of an all-out assault on the Peshmerga.

The group's last territory in Iraq is now a stretch skirting the western border with Syria following the fall of the town of Hawija and surrounding areas on October 5 in an offensive by US-backed Iraqi forces.

The accusation was quickly rejected by Kurdish officials later on Sunday.

In 2014, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) swept through areas north and west of Baghdad, many units of the Iraqi army collapsed and Kurdish Peshmerga forces stepped in to take over.

Tensions have soared between the central government and Iraqi Kurds since they overwhelmingly voted for independence in a 25 September referendum, whose results Baghdad has demanded be nullified.

Iraq's central government responded by imposing a ban on direct worldwide flights to Kurdistan's airports, placing severe restrictions on Kurdish-owned banks and threatening to end the region's independent crude oil sales.

The central government in Baghdad has taken a series of measures to isolate the Kurdish region since they held a referendum on independence, including banning worldwide flights to the area.

Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council issued arrest warrants on Wednesday for the chairman of the Kurdish referendum commission and two aides for "violating a valid (Iraqi) court ruling" banning the independence vote as against the Constitution.

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