By Hussein al-Amir and Ali Jawad
Iraqi forces on Monday entered central Kirkuk's main government headquarters following an earlier retreat from the area by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, according to a local police source.
"A large Iraqi Federal Police force has entered the government headquarters [in Kirkuk] over which they have raised the Iraqi flag," Kirkuk Police Captain Hamed al-Obaidi told Anadolu Agency.
According to the police captain, "hundreds" of local residents gathered outside the building to welcome police.
The move comes shortly after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi commanded Iraq's security forces to raise the Iraqi flag in all areas of dispute between Baghdad and northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
In a related development on Monday evening, the Iraqi authorities imposed a citywide curfew in Kirkuk, which is set to expire at 7.00 a.m. (0400GMT) Tuesday morning.
Al-Abadi has also reportedly ordered security forces to secure the majority-Turkmen district of Tuz Khurmatu in Iraq's Saladin province north of Baghdad, according to a statement released by al-Abadi’s office.
Early Monday, the Iraqi army began a wide-ranging operation aimed at capturing military facilities and oil fields in Kirkuk.
Tension has steadily mounted between Baghdad and the Erbil-based KRG since Sept. 25, when Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas -- and in several disputed territories, including Kirkuk -- voted on whether or not to declare political independence.
The referendum had faced strong opposition from most regional and international actors (including the U.S., Turkey and Iran), who warned that the poll would distract from Iraq's fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region.