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Iraq launches operation to clear oil route to Iran

Iraqi forces are targeting militants belonging to the Islamic State group and White Banners [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 February, 2018

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Iraqi forces, backed by militias, Peshmerga and an international coalition, have begun an operation to clear an oil transit route of militants.
Iraqi forces - backed by a US-led coalition - have launched an operation to clear militants along an oil trucking route from Kirkuk to Iran.

Iraq's military said it would begin clearing and "destroying sleeper cells" in the mountainous border area where armed groups operate, including Islamic State group sleep cells and the newly emerged Kurdish "White Banners" militia.

Iraqi oil officials announced in November plans to transport Kirkuk crude, by truck, to Iran's Kermanshah refinery.

The deal would see up to 60,000 barrels of oil exported to Iran's Kermanshah province, Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaibi said in a statement.

Baghdad government seized Kirkuk's lucrative oil fields from the Kurds following the vote for independence by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which triggered an armed response in disputed areas.

"With the goal of enforcing security and stability, destroying sleeper cells, and continuing clearing operations, an operation was launched in the early hours of this morning to search and clear areas east of Tuz Khurmato," the Iraqi armed forces said in a statement.
 
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The operation involves Iraq's armed forces and elite Emergency Response Division.

It is backed by the surprising coordination of US-led anti-IS coalition air support, Kurdish Peshmerga militias and fighters from the Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilisation Units (PMF).

Sources within the PMF told Reuters there were between 200 and 500 fighters, belonging to remnants of the Islamic State group and the newly emerging White Banners militia.

The White Banners are believed to be comprised of displaced Kurdish population following Iraq's seizure of
Kurdish areas in October last year
. They have no connection to IS or the KRG.

Kirkuk became a battleground last year when Iraqi forces, backed by the PMF, drove the Peshmerga out of the oil-rich city.


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