KIRKUK, Iraq - Iraqi forces are preparing an operation to consolidate control of an area near the Iran border to be used for the transit of Iraqi oil, two officials said on Monday, highlighting concern about mountainous terrain where two armed groups are active.
The operation to secure the Hamrin mountain range could start this week, they told Reuters. The area lies between the Kirkuk oil fields and the town of Khanaqin at the Iranian border. Iraqi oil officials announced in December plans to transport Kirkuk crude by truck to Iran's Kermanshah refinery.
The trucking was to start last week and oil officials declined to give reasons for the delay other than it was technical in nature.
The officials did not elaborate on the possible threats to the Hamrin mountain range. But two groups of insurgents are known to be operating there, one formed by remnants of the ultra-hardline militant Sunni organization Islamic State, while the other known as "White Banners," is new and little known.
The White Banners fighters are believed to be drawn from Kurdish populations displaced from the regions of Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmato, in October, when Iraqi government forces and Iranian-backed paramilitary took over the area, according to Hisham al-Hashimi, a security analyst in Baghdad.