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Thousands of Iraqis flee ISIS to Kurdish territory amid military offensive

KIRKUK, Iraq — Thousands of Iraqis have been fleeing Islamic State-controlled territory to the safety of Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, driven by a military offensive to retake the city of Hawija, the extremists’ last major urban stronghold in the country.

The refugees’ reception in Kurdish-held areas was an indication that vital cooperation between Kurdish peshmerga fighters and the Iraqi military was continuing, at least on some level, despite the festering dispute between Iraq and the Kurds over the latter’s recent vote favoring independence.

According to Kemal Kirkuki, commander of the peshmerga in the area west of Kirkuk, an estimated 3,500 Iraqi civilians had been allowed to cross Kurdish front lines from areas held by the Islamic State in Hawija on Friday and Saturday. An additional 1,000 were expected Sunday, peshmerga officials said.

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An estimated 78,000 people are in Hawija, although the exact number is not known, and as many as 3,000 Islamic State fighters.

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Kurdish officials have provided camps in Kirkuk province to take in the refugees after screening them to ferret out any Islamic State militants who may be among them.

New York Times