Iraqi army launched an operation to capture military bases and oil fields in Kirkuk.

The Iraqi army on Monday launched an operation in the oil-rich Kirkuk city on Monday amid tension over last month’s illegitimate independence referendum in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry said government forces have managed to capture an airbase south of Kirkuk as part of the operation. 

Iraqi forces and the Hashd al-Shaabi militia, which supports the government, also seized full control of Tuz Khurmatu district following clashes with Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

According to Turkmen leader Niazi Oglu, six government forces were killed and dozens injured in artillery shelling by Kurdish forces of the center of Tuz Khurmatu district. 

Government forces also seized control of Daquq district, south of Kirkuk, and the North Oil company after capturing the nearby K1 airbase, the largest airbase in Kirkuk.

Federal Iraqi forces were also reported to have controlled Baba Gurgur oil field near Kirkuk, one of Iraq's oldest producing fields, according to local sources. 

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the Kirkuk operation aims to enforce the authority of the federal government in the oil-rich city.

“My duty is to serve the citizens and protect the unity of the country, which is facing division as a result of insistence on holding the referendum,” he said in a statement.

The Sept. 25 illegitimate referendum has faced strong opposition from most regional and international actors -- including the U.S., Turkey, and Iran -- who warned that the poll would distract from Iraq’s fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region. 

The Iraqi parliament has approved a set of measures against the Kurdish region, including the deployment of federal forces in disputed areas, including Kirkuk, which is disputed between Erbil and Baghdad.

Declaration of war

Meanwhile, Peshmerga Ministry spokesman Helgurd Hikmet said military reinforcements have been sent from Erbil to Kirkuk.

Hikmet said commanders of the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition and Kurdish Peshmerga forces were set to hold a meeting to assess developments in Kirkuk.

In June 2014, the Kurdish forces moved onto a number of strategic positions in Kirkuk when the Daesh terrorist group swept through northern Iraq and the army collapsed.

Earlier Monday, Iraq’s National Security Council warned the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) about having armed groups outside the legal security mechanism. 

In a statement, the Council said Iraq cannot remain silent to two major KRG Kurdish political parties -- the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK -- moving to bring PKK terrorists into Kirkuk. 

"This is a declaration of war against other [non-Kurdish] Iraqis and legal security forces,” it added. 

The PKK is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU, among others.

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