Iraq Kurds: Army claims full control of Kirkuk province

raqi forces say they have now wrested control of all areas of Kirkuk province from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, following fierce fighting.

They say they have retaken Alton Kupri, the last Kurdish-held area. There has been no Kurdish confirmation.

A BBC correspondent at the scene witnessed rocket, artillery and machine-gun fire.

Iraqi forces have this week taken over swathes of territory held by the Kurds since 2014.

Map of Iraq and Kurdistan Region

Army and allied militia launched an operation which saw Kurdish forces pushed back into the officially recognised autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which includes ethnically mixed Kirkuk city, is claimed by both the central government in Baghdad and the KRI.

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered military action after the Kurdish government held a referendum which overwhelmingly backed independence. Mr Abadi had declared the vote illegitimate.

An Iraqi military spokesman said counter-terrorism and federal police forces, as well as Iranian-backed militia, had advanced on Alton Kupri at 07:30 (04:30 GMT).

Kurdish security forces at a checkpoint in Altun Kupri (16/10/17)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionAltun Kupri was the last area in Kirkuk province held by Kurdish forces, seen here earlier this week

The BBC’s Richard Galpin, who was at a checkpoint in the area, says there was a “major outbreak of fighting” with large numbers of military vehicles and soldiers heading to the scene.

The town, known as Perde in Kurdish, lies on the northern edge of Kirkuk province, about 50km (30 miles) south of the Kurdish capital, Irbil.

A fighter loyal to the Iraqi government aims his rifle in the Alton Kupri area, 20 OctoberImage copyrightAFP
Image captionFighters loyal to the Iraqi government could be seen in the Alton Kupri area on Friday

The latest action comes a day after an Iraqi court ordered the arrest of Kurdistan’s vice-president for calling troops sent to Kirkuk this week “occupying forces”.

Peshmerga forces had controlled much of the province since 2014, when Islamic State militants swept across northern Iraq and the army collapsed.