ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 139

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Kurds report casualties in Iraqi army assault on Kirkuk

Unverified reports speak of burned houses and deaths, as US urges sides to ‘avoid escalatory actions,’ keep focus on IS

This image from a video shows Iraqi soldiers in military vehicles in the Qatash area moving towards a gas plant, south of Kirkuk, Iraq, October 16, 2017. (APTN via AP)
This image from a video shows Iraqi soldiers in military vehicles in the Qatash area moving towards a gas plant, south of Kirkuk, Iraq, October 16, 2017. (APTN via AP)

KIRKUK, Iraq — Iraqi Kurdish officials said Monday that federal forces and state-backed militias had launched a “major, multi-pronged” attack aimed at retaking the disputed northern city of Kirkuk.

An Iraqi Kurdish commander said federal forces had seized an oil and gas company and other industrial areas south of Kirkuk, in fighting with Kurdish forces that caused “lots of casualties.”

Brig. Gen. Bahzad Ahmed, a spokesman for Kurdish forces, said that Iraqi troops had “burned lots of houses and killed many people” in Toz Khormato and Daquq, south of the disputed city. He said Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, had “destroyed one or two of their tanks.”

His claims could not be independently verified.

The US-led coalition is urging Iraqi and Kurdish forces to “avoid escalatory actions.”

This image from a video shows Iraqi army forces south of Kirkuk, Iraq, October 16, 2017. (APTN via AP)

US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman, tweeted that the coalition is “closely monitoring sit. near Kirkuk; urge all sides to avoid escalatory actions. Finish the fight vs. #ISIS, biggest threat to all.”

The US-led coalition has armed and trained federal and Kurdish forces in the battle against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, which is still ongoing despite the retaking of the northern city of Mosul earlier this year.

Iraqi forces launched a major operation south of Kirkuk late Sunday with the aim of ousting the Kurds, who occupied the city three years ago to protect it from Islamic State.

This image from a video shows Iraqi soldiers in the Qatash area near a gas plant, south of Kirkuk, Iraq, October 16, 2017. (APTN via AP)

Tensions between the federal government and the Kurds have soared since the Kurds voted for independence last month in a non-binding referendum rejected by the central government as well as the United States.

The Kurdistan Region Security Council said Monday that its forces had destroyed at least five US-supplied Humvees being used by the state-sanctioned militias following the “unprovoked attack” south of the city.

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