The British army has been deployed to Iraq in a bid to protect a major oil refinery.
Armed soldiers are guarding the refinery in the city of Kirkuk as it is threatened by a rebel offensive.
Arriving on Wednesday, soldiers said they had been deployed “as a last resort” to stop the advance of a small number of armed groups, who had occupied the refinery, according to Reuters news agency.
British Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said that “the UK is committed to protecting our vital oil infrastructure in Iraq and to securing its vital oil exports”, but added that the operation would take time.
Kirkuk, a strategic oil hub on the west bank of the Tigris river, is home to one of Iraq’s major oil fields, as well as the biggest refineries in the country.
The refinery is located near the city’s eastern border with Syria, which the US and its allies accuse of supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The British government says that it is in the process of evacuating its military personnel from Kirkuk.
In November, the US imposed sanctions on Iraq and three senior Iraqi officials after they were implicated in a deal that was supposed to see the US sell arms to the Iraqi government.
The US had offered the oilfield to the Iraq government, but it has been accused of ignoring the concerns of the Iraqi oil sector.
The United Nations has accused the government of allowing oil to flow through pipelines from Iraq to Jordan and Turkey, where the US says it has no diplomatic relations.