Egypt urges Iraq, Kurdish region for restraint

Forces pulled down the Kurdish flag which had been flying alongside the national flag, according to Reuters.

Neither side gave a casualty toll for the operation.

They rejected what they described as "military threats" from Iraqi forces against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and pledged to defend Kurdish-held territory in case of an attack.

The exodus in buses and cars towards Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, the two main cities of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, created traffic jams on roads leading out of Kirkuk. A resident of Kirkuk said today that ethnic Turkmen were firing guns into the air in celebration of the takeover by government forces.

Tensions are escalating between Baghdad and the region of Kurdistan after the Kurds held the September controversial referendum on the independence of the Kurdistan region and the disputed areas. To Baghdad, it looked like a provocation that underscored what it sees as unchecked Kurdish expansionism. The vastly outmatched Kurdish fighters withdrew from the city en masse, and journalists were left to wander into abandoned barracks and administrative buildings.

Pro-PUK forces were deployed south of the city, including at oil fields, while fighters loyal to the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party, linked to Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani who initiated the referendum, were deployed to the north.

State-run Al-Iraqiya TV had earlier reported that federal forces rolled into parts of the countryside outside Kirkuk without facing resistance. The Iranian-sponsored militias are viewed with deep suspicion by Iraq's Kurds, who see them as a policy implement of Tehran that threatens demographic change.

Vahal Ali, a media assistant to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani, denied the accusation.

The ethnically and religiously diverse city has always been a flashpoint between the central government in Baghdad and the northern Kurdish region.

The disruptions could prove to be temporary but there are other tensions in the wider Middle East, said Neil Wilson of ETX Capital: "The prospect of fresh USA sanctions on Iran may offer longer-term support to prices". Washington has called for "all parties to immediately cease military action and restore calm", adding that Isis remained the true enemy of all parties in Iraq and they should focus on its elimination.

The action in Iraq helped spur a jump in world oil prices on Monday.

Baghdad considers last month's Kurdish independence vote illegal, especially as it was held not just in the autonomous region but in Kirkuk and other neighbouring areas the Kurdish Peshmerga occupied after driving out Islamic State.

The Kurdish secession bid was strongly opposed by neighbours Iran and Turkey.

The Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry quickly dismissed the allegations.

A Kurdish customs official, Shakhwan Abu Bakr, earlier said that the border had been closed to all people and goods at the three crossings into Iran.

The Iraqi parliament asked Mr Abadi to deploy troops to Kirkuk and other disputed areas after the referendum result was announced, but he said last week that he would accept them being governed by a "joint administration" and that he did not want an armed confrontation.

The status of Kirkuk and fate of the Kurds were left unsettled 14 years ago when a USA -led invasion toppled Saddam.

During the years of United States occupation that followed, Washington leaned on its Kurdish allies to keep their ambitions in check to avoid triggering another war amid an insurgency by Sunni Arabs.

Kurdish controlled areas of Iraq, the second-biggest oil producer in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), had historically been the most productive in the country and contained much of the nation's infrastructure.

"The referendum came at a time where the country is fighting against terrorism that has come in the form of ISIL". But the vote angered neighbours and put pressure on Abadi to act.

Among the facilities captured Monday were the provincial airport, a key military base known as K1, the North Gas Co. and a power plant, government officials said.

In a statement, the Turkish government said it would stand by Baghdad to provide peace and stability in the region.

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