- Associated Press - Friday, October 20, 2017

ALTUN KUPRI, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces exchanged fire at their shared border on Friday, capping a dramatic week of maneuvers that saw the Kurds handover territory across north and east Iraq.

Iraq’s anti-terrorism and federal police forces shelled Kurdish military positions north and south of Altun Kupri, just outside the country’s autonomous Kurdish region, a day after Brig. Gen. Raad Baddai gave warning he was going to enter the town.

Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, responded with rocket fire.

Iraq’s federal authority claims Altun Kupri for itself as it is part of the areas acquired by the Kurds in 2014, when Iraqi soldiers gave up their posts in the face of an Islamic State group advance.

Kurdish authorities have sent reinforcements to the front lines. An Associated Press team saw a convoy of 50 armored vehicles arriving at the Kurdish side of the front.

Thick black smoke rose from a checkpoint north of Altun Kupri after it was hit by a shell.

The peshmerga are vastly outmatched by Iraq’s federal armed forces and the Iranian-sponsored militias that fight alongside them. Both the Kurds and the federal forces are accustomed to calling and receiving coalition air support as part of their shared war on the Islamic State group.

“There’s nothing we can do about it, honestly. I’m urging the coalition forces to come and help us.” said peshmerga fighter Ibrahim Mirza. “No doubt we have martyrs.”

On Monday, Iraq’s federal forces, supported by Iranian-sponsored militias, rolled into the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, forcing the peshmerga to withdraw after brief clashes.

Kirkuk was at the heart of the dispute over whether Kurdish authorities should return the territories it acquired during the war on IS. They have lost an important stream of oil revenues with the loss of Kirkuk, dealing a serious blow to aspirations for independence.

Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani championed a non-binding vote for independence in September. Baghdad condemned it and instead demanded the return of the disputed territories, precipitating the crisis.

Altun Kupri is 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Kirkuk.

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