Iraqi commander says rival Kurdish forces entering disputed northern areas

Iraq's top military spokesman is accusing rival Kurdish forces of sending reinforcements into two disputed northern areas of the country amid heightened tensions between the Baghdad central government and the Kurdish autonomous region.

Col. Dhia al-Wakeel says Kurdish forces, backed by rocket launchers and artillery, reinforced troops already in the cities of Khaniqeen and Kirkuk on Thursday. Al-Wakeel said some were in civilian clothes. He would not elaborate further.

Kurdish forces commander Mahmoud Sankawi denied the claim.

Already poor relations between Baghdad and the north have been fraying since October, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki formed a new military force to oversee command of the security forces bordering the self-ruled Kurdish autonomous region, including units deployed in disputed areas claimed by Iraqi Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds.