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Iraq army seizes town near Erbil after fierce clashes

Iraq army seizes town near Erbil after fierce clashes

Iraqi forces have seized control of a town in the Kurdish oil-rich province of Kirkuk, capping a dramatic week of maneuvers that saw the Kurds handover territory across the north and east of the country.

The federal army, backed by Shia militias, seized control of Altun Kupri, some 40km south of Erbil on Friday, after fierce fighting broke out between Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, local media reported.

"Iraqi federal police and counter-terrorism forces, along with Hashd al-Shaabi fighters, have deployed in – and imposed security on – the sub-district," the Iraqi Defense Ministry said in a statement.

"Altun Kupri is now under the total control of federal forces," the statement added.

Iraqi army takes 'full control' of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces

Iraqi and Kurdish media said no casualties were reported, but thick plumes of smoke could be seen rising from a Kurdish checkpoint just north of the town after heavy gunfire was reported.

Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the Erbil-Kirkuk Highway, a few kilometres from the frontline, said two bridges in the area had been destroyed but it was unclear by who.

"Trucks carrying ammunition are heading to the area as well as ambulances," she said.

"People are fleeing the scene of the fighting with everything they own – even transporting their cows."

The reported control of Altun Kupri is part of an operation launched on Monday, on the orders of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, to retake disputed areas between Baghdad and the Iraqi autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Iraqi troops and allied militia retook the northern province of Kirkuk and its lucrative oil fields on Monday and Tuesday, as well as formerly Kurdish-held areas of Nineveh and Diyala provinces – all outside the autonomous Kurdish region.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Kurdish hopes for an independent state were now "a thing of the past".

Since Baghdad started its operation in the disputed areas, its forces have captured most territory without clashes from the withdrawing Peshmerga.

The Peshmerga seized Kirkuk, Iraq's second oil hub, in mid-2014 when Iraqi troops withdrew from adavancing fighter from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

INSIDE STORY: What does the future hold for Iraq's Kurds after territory seized? (25:01)
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