Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has denied an attack plan against the positions of Kurdish Peshmerga forces amid ongoing tensions between the central government in Baghdad and authorities of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
“We are not going to use our army to fight our people or to make war on our Kurdish citizens or others,” Abadi said in televised comments broadcast on state-run al-Iraqiya television network on Thursday.
He added, “Our duty is to preserve the unity of our country, to implement the constitution, and to protect citizens and national forces.”
The remarks came as an unnamed Kurdish military official said Peshmerga forces had closed the two main roads connecting the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Dohuk with the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, located some 400 kilometers north of the capital Baghdad, for several hours.
“The closure was prompted by fears of a possible attack by Iraqi forces on the disputed areas,” held by Kurdish forces outside the Kurdish region, the official added.
Kurdish authorities said late on Wednesday that they feared Iraqi army forces and pro- government fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units, commonly known by their Arabic name, Hashd al-Sha’abi, were gearing up to launch an assault on the semi-autonomous region.
“We’re receiving dangerous messages that Hashd al-Sha’abi forces and federal police are preparing a major attack from the southwest of Kirkuk and north of Mosul against Kurdistan,” the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Security Council said.
Iraqi security sources said on Thursday that members of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and the Interior Ministry’s elite rapid response forces had deployed more troops near Peshmerga positions around Rashad village, situated some 65 kilometers southwest of Kirkuk.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC) underplayed the fears, expressing confidence that dialogue would resolve the issue.
“Our mission is clear: we are fighting a single enemy, Daesh,” said the spokesman for the JOC, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, who added, “All that interests Iraqis … is to liberate our country and beat the terrorist group. We do not forget the role played by the Peshmerga.”
Rasool further noted that Iraqi government forces had previously operated close to Peshmerga lines near the northern city of Tal Afar.
‘Kurds must back Iraq’s unity before any negotiations’
Meanwhile, an Iraqi government spokesman says Baghdad has a series of conditions that the KRG must meet before any talks on the resolution of the referendum crisis could start.
The referendum on secession of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region was held on September 25 despite strong opposition from the central government in Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq’s neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.
“The KRG must first commit to Iraq’s unity. The local authorities in the [Kurdistan] region … must accept the sovereign authority of the federal government on … oil exports, [as well as] security and border protection, including land and air entry points,” the unnamed Iraqi official added.
The senior Iraqi official further said, “These are the basis for any dialogue requested by the local government of the region.”
The remarks came in response to an offer for dialogue made on Wednesday overnight by Kurdish authorities.
Turkey to close border crossings with northern Iraq
Separately, a Turkish government spokesman said on Thursday that his country would gradually close border crossings with Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in coordination with the central Iraqi government and neighboring Iran.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is expected to visit Baghdad on Sunday to meet with his Iraqi counterpart.
The Iraqi prime minister has already demanded the annulment of the Kurdish independence referendum results.
During a recent press conference in Paris, Abadi said his government did not seek confrontation with Iraqi Kurds, but reiterated Baghdad’s position that the referendum was illegal and that problems should be solved within the framework of Iraq’s constitution.