Kurds reinforce oil-rich Kirkuk amid tension with Iraq government

Iraqi government denies operation claims to Kirkuk

Kurds put forces on alert for Iraq attack near Kirkuk

Meanwhile, a Justice Ministry official from northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), denounced the Iraqi court's warrants as "politically motivated", stressing that Baghdad's judicial system has no jurisdiction in Kurdistan, which is allegedly ruled by its own legal body.

A top aide to KRG President Masoud Barzani recently asserted that the Hashd al-Shaabi - a Shia force that fights alongside the Iraqi army - was planning to attack oil wells in Kirkuk.

Baghdad has demanded the Kurds return to the city to federal authorities, a dispute that has escalated since the Kurds voted for independence in a non-binding referendum last month.

"Their order is to defend at any cost", Hemin Hawrami wrote on Twitter.

It also denied reports it had launched fresh operations south of Kirkuk with the aim of capturing Peshmerga-held areas in the province's north.

According to the AP news agency, as many as 6,000 Kurdish troops have been deployed in the Kirkuk area.

Sources in Kirkuk also confirmed the movement of Iraqi forces on two fronts in Kirkuk, in the south and west of the city. He added that the Iraqis, which include the Hashd al-Shaabi, an group of militias allied with the Iraqi government against Islamic State forces, are preparing to make advances into Kurdish-controlled areas that include oil wells and Kirkuk's airport.

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.

Mr Hawrami urged the global community to intervene and call on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to "order PMF to pull back if he can or if they listen to him".

Baghdad continues to reject decades-old Kurdish ambitions to incorporate Kirkuk and other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their autonomous region.

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