Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region has sent 6,000 reinforcements to the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Rudaw News, a Kurdish outlet, quoted Kurdish Vice President Kosrat Rasul as saying the reinforcements were sent to Kirkuk late on Thursday in response to what it says are threats from Baghdad to attack the oil-rich city.

Kirkuk is controlled by Kurdish forces but outside the autonomous Kurdish region.

Prime minister Haider al-Abadi
Prime minister Haider al-Abadi (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

The Kurds took control of Kirkuk when the Islamic State group swept across northern Iraq in 2014 as the Iraqi military crumbled.

Baghdad has demanded the Kurds return to the city to federal authorities, a dispute that has escalated since the Kurds voted for independence in a non-binding referendum last month.

Iraq’s prime minister Haider al-Abadi has ruled out the use of military force against the Kurds.