Kurdish VP : Thousands of troops sent to Kirkuk to face "Iraqi threat"

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Earlier, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said he would never use military force against Iraqi Kurdistan; The goal is, he said, to free the country from the refugee extremists in the north of the country.

Kurdish authorities have sent thousands more troops to the oil region of Kirkuk to confront "threats" from Iraq's central government, the vice president of the autonomous Kurdistan region said on Friday.

The alert came after the Kurdish authorities accused the Iraqi government of massing forces in readiness for an offensive to seize Kurdish-held oilfields around Kirkuk, as tensions soar after a vote for independence on September 25.

The surge in tension comes two weeks after voters in the northern region of Iraq overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the federal government condemned as illegal.

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But Baghdad has said the Kurds must disavow the referendum result as a pre-condition for any talks. Earlier Baghdad dismissed the governor of Kirkuk and chose to deploy troops to the province.

Iraq's tough line towards the Kurds has the support of neighbours Turkey and Iran, which strongly oppose the secessionist movement given their own sizable Kurdish minorities.

Baghdad has denied it has plans for a military move against the Kurds.

The Kirkuk province along with parts of the provinces of Nineveh, Saladin (northern Iraq) and Diyala (eastern Iraq) are disputed between Baghdad and the KRG and inhabited by a mixture of ethnic Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen.

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Iraqi forces and Shi'ite Muslim paramilitaries, known as Popular Mobilisation, are deployed south and west of Kirkuk, after having recaptured the areas from Islamic State (IS).

The Peshmerga deployed amid KRG fears of Iraqi government troops and militia moving against the city.

On Thursday, the Iraqi military dropped leaflets on al-Qaim urging the militants to surrender or face death. "The imposition of a status quo by force over the disputed areas is unacceptable".

Islamic State's cross-border "caliphate" effectively collapsed in July when US -backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group's de facto capital in Iraq, after a nine-month battle.

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