Iraq PM denies attack plan as tensions rise with Kurds
Joint Operations Command highlights need to defeat Daesh
IRBIL: Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has denied an attack on the Kurds was imminent, in a bid to defuse tensions that had prompted Kurdish peshmerga fighters to temporarily seal off road links with the rest of the country.
“We are not going to use our army to fight our people or to make war on our Kurdish citizens or others,” Al-Abadi said.
“Our duty is to preserve the unity of our country, to implement the constitution, and to protect citizens and national forces,” he told a meeting of tribal leaders from the western province of Anbar.
The rise in tensions came two weeks after Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the central government condemned as illegal.
Iraqi Kurdish forces closed the two main roads connecting Irbil and Dohuk with the northern city of Mosul for several hours, a Kurdish military official said.
“The closure was prompted by fears of a possible attack by Iraqi forces on the disputed areas,” held by Kurdish forces but outside the autonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country, the official said.
Kurdish authorities said late on Wednesday they feared Iraqi government forces and allied paramilitary units were gearing up to launch an assault on the autonomous region.
“We’re receiving dangerous messages that the Hashed Al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces) and federal police are preparing a major attack from the southwest of Kirkuk and north of Mosul against Kurdistan,” the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Security Council said.
Security sources said Thursday that Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service and Rapid Response Force had deployed more forces near peshmerga positions around Rashad, a village some 65 km southwest of Kirkuk city.
The oil-rich province of the same name, areas of which took part in the referendum, is disputed between the Kurds and Baghdad.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which groups all pro-government forces, played down the tensions, expressing confidence that dialogue would resolve the problem.
“Our mission is clear: We are fighting a single enemy, Daesh,” Brig. Gen. Yahiya Rassul said.
“All that interests Iraqis... is to liberate our country and beat the terrorist group,” he said. “We do not forget the role played by the peshmerga.”
He said Iraqi government forces had previously operated close to peshmerga lines near the northern city of Tal Afar.
Asked if there had been movements of Iraqi forces close to peshmerga positions, Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition battling Daesh in Syria and Iraq, said: “We don’t see that.”
The coalition has worked with both peshmerga and Iraqi pro-government forces in the battle to oust Daesh from areas of Iraq it seized in mid-2014.
“Our mission is clear — to defeat Daesh,” Dillon said.
“We have done that throughout Iraq. We will support the Iraqis in the same way we have in the last three years to make sure that Daesh is defeated.”
Central authorities severed ties between the Kurdish autonomous region and the outside world after the referendum by cutting international air links.
Series of conditions
A government spokesman said Baghdad has a series of conditions that the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) must meet before agreeing to hold talks on the crisis triggered by the referendum. The KRG must first “commit to Iraq’s unity,” the spokesman said,
Turkey and Iran, which fear that Iraqi Kurdish moves toward independence could fuel demands from their own sizeable Kurdish communities, have also threatened to close their borders to oil exports.
An Iraqi court on Wednesday ordered the arrest of senior Kurdish officials responsible for organizing the referendum, saying they had done so “in contravention of a ruling by the Iraqi supreme court.”
A woman speaks with an intelligence officer after her house was bombed by Iraqi airstrikes in Qabr Al-Abd village near Mosul in this file photo. (AFP)