Iraq says Kurds have brought in PKK fighters in 'declaration of war'

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government accused Kurdish authorities on Sunday of bringing fighters from Turkey’s separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and said it considered the move a “declaration of war.”

Vahal Ali, a media assistant to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani, denied the accusation. “This is false, there are no PKK in Kirkuk, only Peshmerga,” he told Reuters, referring to KRG military forces.

In a statement published after a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad, and attended by top military and security commanders, the government said it would seek to impose its authority over Kirkuk and other disputed areas.

Iraq’s Kurdish leadership rejected on Sunday a demand by the Iraqi government to cancel the outcome of an independence referendum as a precondition for talks to resolve the dispute.

Barzani and other Kurdish leaders, who met to discuss the crisis in the town of Dokan, renewed their offer to “resolve peacefully” the crisis with Baghdad.

They rejected what they described as “military threats” from Iraqi forces against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and pledged to defend Kurdish-held territory in the event of an attack.

The KRG and the Shi’ite-led central government in Baghdad have been at loggerheads since the Sept. 25 referendum and its loud call for Kurdish independence.

Tensions between the two parties have flared around the multi-ethnic oil city of Kirkuk, which Peshmerga forces took in 2014 when Iraqi security forces collapsed in the face of an Islamic State onslaught. The Peshmerga deployment prevented Kirkuk’s oilfields from falling into jihadist hands.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Catherine Evans and Mark Potter