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Clashes Reported Near Kirkuk As Iraqi Forces Advance On Kurdish-Held Sites

Iraqi forces gather in the area of Taza Khurmata on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk on October 15.

The Iraqi Army says government troops have moved toward Kurdish-held sites in the northern province of Kirkuk, capturing several positions from Kurdish fighters.

An army statement said on October 16 that pro-government forces took control of bridges, roads, and infrastructure, including gas facilities, a power station, and a police station south of the disputed city of Kirkuk.

"Forces are continuing to advance," it said.

A spokesman for Kurdish forces, Brigadier General Bahzad Ahmed, confirmed that federal forces seized industrial areas south of Kirkuk in fighting that caused "lots of casualties," without providing a specific figure.

The Iraqi government earlier said it had launched an operation to "secure bases" and "federal installations" in Kirkuk Province seized by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in 2014, when militants from the extremist group Islamic State (IS) swept across northern Iraq.

The move comes three weeks after Kurdish officials held an independence referendum in their autonomous region and surrounding areas, including the city of Kirkuk, in a vote blasted by Baghdad as illegal. Kurdish officials said residents voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Crisis talks on October 15 failed to resolve the standoff as Kurdish leaders refused demands by the Baghdad government to reject the referendum result.

The United States late on October 15 called on “all actors” in the region to avoid "destabilizing actions that distract from the fight against [the IS group] and further undermine Iraq's stability."

Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal said that Washington urged dialogue "as the best option to defuse tensions."

The U.S. State Department said it was “very concerned” about the reports of a “confrontation” and that it was engaged with all parties.

Oil-rich Kirkuk Province is claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters