Iraq army takes last Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province: army

Map of northern Iraq showing the province of Kirkuk and the 3 provinces that make up Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish peshmerga fighters Friday and retook control of the last sector of the disputed province of Kirkuk, near the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the military command said.

A security source in the northern province said the peshmerga planted explosions that damaged one of the main bridges linking Kirkuk to their regional capital Arbil over the Little Zab river.

“Police, counter-terrorism units and the Hashed-Shaabi (paramilitary forces) have retaken the Altun Kupri region,” 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Arbil, the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which groups Iraqi forces, said in a statement.

The security source, who asked for anonymity, said: “There were clashes but they managed to launch the assault… and hoist the flag on the municipality building.”

The agricultural region of Altun Kupri, which means “golden bridge” in Turkish, is inhabited by Kurds and also has a Turkmen community, and it covers an area of 520 square kilometres (200 square miles).

Since Sunday, federal forces backed by allied paramilitary units have driven Kurdish peshmerga fighters out of Kirkuk as well as disputed areas of Niniveh and Diyala provinces.

The advance has been mostly without resistance, with the peshmerga pulling out under an agreement between some Kurdish leaders and Baghdad.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the operation to establish central authority three weeks after the Kurds held an independence referendum in their three-province autonomous region as well as the disputed areas in defiance of Baghdad.

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