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Shiite militia forces ran for cover on Saturday in an Iraqi offensive against the city of Hawija, the last Islamic State stronghold in Iraq.

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Reuters

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 pesh merga 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, the commander of the pesh merga 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, also known as ISIS, in Hawija on Friday and Saturday. An additional 1,000 were expected on Sunday, pesh merga officials said.

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 pesh merga fighters helped people who had fled Hawija as they arrived on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq.

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Ako Rasheed/Reuters

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.

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