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Iraqi forces launched a security operation along a planned oil transit route to Iran on Wednesday, saying it was clearing and 'destroying sleeper cells in the mountainous border area where two armed groups operate,reports.
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 officials declined to give reasons for the delay other than it was technical in nature.
'With the goal of enforcing security and stability, destroying sleeper cells, and continuing clearing operations, an operation was launched in the early hours of this morning to search and clear areas east of Tuz Khurmato, the Iraqi armed forces said in a statement.
Sources within the PMF said there were between 200 and 500 fighters, belonging to remnants of Islamic State and a newly emerging militant group known as the White Banners. Other security sources said the militants numbered between 500 and 1,000.
Trucking crude oil to Iran was agreed under a swap agreement announced in December by the two countries, to allow a resumption of oil exports from Kirkuk.
Iraq and Iran have agreed to swap up to 60,000 barrels per day of crude produced from Kirkuk for Iranian oil to be delivered to southern Iraq.
Iraq declared victory over Islamic State in December, after taking back all the territory captured by the militants in 2014 and 2015. A U.S.-led coalition provided key support to the Iraqi forces, especially in the battle to dislodge them from Mosul, their de facto capital in northern Iraq, in July.
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