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Iraq fights assault as Baghdad-Kurd row escalates

RAMADI: Iraq battled a militant assault on key city Ramadi Friday while accusing the Kurds of seizing oil fields, further dashing hopes of political unity to save the country from its feared break-up.
The militant push to take Anbar’s provincial capital comes two days before a planned parliamentary session meant to revive flagging efforts to replace the caretaker government in power since April elections.
Sunni militants have captured areas west of Ramadi since the fighting began Thursday afternoon, killing 11 police, bombing a police station and taking control of another, officials said.
One of the sources, a police lieutenant colonel, said the insurgents were attempting to “storm Ramadi from the western side”.
The fall of the city, where anti-government fighters have held shifting areas this year, would be a major advance for the jihadist-led militants, who have overrun large areas of five provinces, including parts of Anbar, since June 9.
It could increase the threat to the capital by solidifying militant positions in Anbar and breaking the isolation of insurgent-held Fallujah, which lies only 60 kilometres (37 miles) west of Baghdad.
As the battle for Ramadi raged, Iraq’s oil ministry accused the country’s autonomous Kurdish region of grabbing key northern oil fields.
The ministry said Kurdish forces had seized “crude oil (wells) in the Kirkuk and Bey Hassan oil fields” on Friday morning.
But Halkurd Mulla Ali, the spokesman for the ministry responsible for the Kurdish peshmerga forces, denied the accusation.
“Peshmerga forces have not approached the oil fields in Kirkuk,” Ali told AFP.
Peshmerga fighters have moved into stretches of disputed northern areas vacated by Iraqi forces during the initial militant offensive, and regional president Massud Barzani has said they will stay there.
Maliki has accused Barzani of exploiting the chaos created by the jihadist Islamic State (IS), and said the region was hosting militants involved in the offensive.
That claim drew derision from Barzani’s office, which shot back Thursday that Maliki “has become hysterical and has lost his balance”.
Saying Maliki had “destroyed the country,” it demanded he “apologise to the Iraqi people and step down”.
Control over the Kirkuk region and its oil wealth would be the realisation of a long-held Kurdish dream, and Barzani’s announcement this month that a referendum on independence was in the works has enraged the Shiite Arab premier.
The escalating war of words between Maliki and the Kurds has already cast a pall over the parliamentary session slated for Sunday. So far, international calls for feuding politicians to come together to face the militant offensive have gone unheeded.
In a sign of what may occur in parliament, Kurdish ministers said Maliki’s stance “only served the enemies of Iraq and the terrorists” and announced they were boycotting cabinet sessions.

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