Iraqi forces launch operation for Kurdish-held oil fields, military base

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces advanced toward oil fields and a military base near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk early Monday morning, a Kurdish official and Iraqi officers said.

Two officers with Iraq’s counterterrorism forces, which trained closely with the United States, said their forces were mobilizing as part of the operation. Kurdish peshmerga troops who are defending the area are also U.S.-armed and -trained.

No resistance was reported as the operation began, and Iraqi troops said they had been instructed to avoid violence.

Kurdistan’s vote for independence last month has sharpened long-standing disputes between Baghdad and Kurdistan’s semiautonomous government in the north over land and oil.

Iraq has demanded that Kurdistan allow its forces to return to positions it held before the war against Islamic State militants. Kurdish forces took control of military bases and oil fields around Kirkuk after Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of the Islamic State’s 2014 advance.

Baghdad has built up troops on the outskirts of the city in recent days. Army, police and forces from Iraq’s popular mobilization units, which include Shiite militias backed by Iran, have massed in the area, as Kurdish forces furiously dug defenses.

In a tweet, the Kurdistan Region Security Council described the advance as a “major” operation with the intention of entering the city and taking over the K1 base and the oil fields.

“The orders are to surround K1 and oil fields and stop and call on the Kurdish forces to retreat,” said one of the counterterrorism officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “There are strict orders to avoid violence.”

Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk province, had said late last week that Baghdad had delivered an “ultimatum” to withdraw from the base and the oil fields.