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)

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