KIRKUK - Iraqi Kurdistan's president vowed to protect Kurdish interests during a visit to the city of Kirkuk on Monday, in a show of defiance of Iraq's central government over disputed territory and oil.
Tensions are running high between autonomous Kurdistan and Baghdad after both sent troops to reinforce areas along their disputed internal border, bringing them close to confrontation in their long-running feud.
Dressed in military uniform and flanked by troops, Kurdistan's President Masoud Barzani visited Kurdish-controlled areas of Kirkuk, a city long seen as a flashpoint for Arab-Kurdish tensions after the US military withdrawal a year ago.
"Kurds, throughout history, did not choose war as a means, but this does not mean they will sit handcuffed in the face of oppression," he said on the outskirts of Kirkuk.
"We are against the war and we do not like war, but if things come to war, then all Kurdish people are ready to fight in order to preserve the Kurdish identity of Kirkuk."