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Iraq conflict: Kurdish Peshmerga 'given deadline' in Kirkuk

Clashes have erupted near the disputed city of Kirkuk between Kurdish fighters and Shia militia backing the central Iraqi government.

The two sides - which until recently were united in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group - blame each other for the latest violence.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad.

Tensions have risen there since Kurds held a referendum on independence last month, which Iraq regards as illegal.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of much of the province in 2014, when Islamic State (IS) militants swept across northern Iraq and the army collapsed.

The Iraqi parliament asked Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi to send troops to Kirkuk and other disputed areas after the official referendum results - which overwhelmingly backed independence - were proclaimed.

But Mr Abadi said last week he would accept them being governed by a "joint administration" and that he did not want an armed confrontation.

On Thursday, the prime minister and the Iraqi military reiterated that they had no plans for a military operation in Kirkuk and were focused on recapturing the last IS foothold in Iraq near the border with Syria.

But since then there has been a major build up of Iraqi forces around the city and Kurdish officials say the Peshmerga have been ordered to defend their positions "at any cost".

There have been no further details about Saturday's clashes, or whether there were any casualties.

The province, which bears the same name as the city, is thought to have a Kurdish majority, but Kirkuk has large Arab and Turkmen populations.

Original Article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-41621754

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