Nine members of the Kurdish peshmerga have been arrested amid allegations they were involved in "business deals" with members of the Islamic State group in Kirkuk, Iraqi Kurdish authorities have said.
"Some peshmerga charged with business deals with IS in Kirkuk have been arrested and investigations of them are under way in the ministry's intelligence department," said Halgurd Hikmat, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government's peshmerga ministry.
The local media network Rudaw reported on Wednesday that the nine arrested were soldiers and officers, and quoted Hikmat as saying there were further suspects to be investigated.
The nine peshmerga were arrested recently near Daquq, southern Kirkuk. Five of them were from Division 80 and the other four were from Division 70.
Division 70 is affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, which is headed by former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. Division 80 has links to the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, which is led by Iraqi Kurdistan's president, Massoud Barzani.
Rudaw said the arrests were the latest in a number of investigations into Kurdish business deals with the IS group.
Efforts to cut IS trade
IS continues to control villages around the city of Kirkuk, which is controlled by the KRG, and last August launched a suicide and gun attack on the city in an apparent counter-attack as Iraqi forces launched operations to retake the city of Mosul.
A committee was formed in 2014 to investigate smuggling of cars, food and fuel by Kurds across territories then held by IS.
Its most recent report in early 2015 said illegal trade amounted to $1m a day. It said a number of officials from the ruling KDP, members of PUK, and peshmerga fighters had been involved in the illegal trade.
Investigations in 2014 found that Islamic State militants had sold vast amounts of oil via Iraqi Kurdistan. One trader told the Guardian that at its height, 25,350 barrels of crude oil was going to Kurdistan a day, before it was moved on to Turkey and Iran.
But one Kurdish parliamentarian admitted to the newspaper that efforts to restrict the smuggling and co-operation had only limited trade, not ended it.
"I would say the illegal trade has decreased by 50 percent," said Mahmoud Haji Omar. "We have detained several people who were involved in buying oil from Daesh [IS]."
The IS group has since lost much of its oil-producing territory in Iraq, but controls large areas of northern Iraq and Syria.