Iraqi forces advance towards the centre of Kirkuk during an operation against Kurdish fighters on October 16, 2017. AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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Iraqi government forces captured the major Kurdish-held oil city of Kirkuk Monday, responding to a Kurdish referendum on independence with a bold lightning strike that transforms the balance of power in the country.An aid organization working in Kirkuk said several peshmerga and members of the Iraqi forces had been killed in an overnight clash south of Kirkuk – the only serious fighting reported.As Iraqi forces advanced, Kurdish operators briefly shut some 350,000 barrels per day of oil output at two large Kirkuk fields, citing security concerns, Oil Ministry sources on both sides said. A dozen Iraqi armored vehicles arrived at the provincial government headquarters in Kirkuk and took up positions nearby, alongside local police. They pulled down the Kurdish flag and left the Iraqi flag flying.Late Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States will not take sides in the clash between the Kurds and the Iraqi government but expressed disappointment the two sides were in conflict.Although Iraqi officials portrayed the Kurds as retreating without a fight, Kurdish officials said peshmerga had clashed with Al-Hashd al-Shaabi forces trained and armed by Iran that operate alongside regular Iraqi troops.
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