Baghdad, Irbil signal dialogue as clashes erupt near Kirkuk

DAILY SABAH
ANKARA
Published 20.10.2017 20:19

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has agreed to hold talks with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad in an attempt to resolve the crisis caused by last month's illegitimate referendum on regional independence, a KRG statement confirmed Thursday.

The KRG is "ready for dialogue with the central government," read the statement issued by its prime ministry following a cabinet meeting earlier in the day. The statement went on to urge the international community to "help promote dialogue between the two sides" for progress in the talks.

"History has shown that the will of the people of Kurdistan will not be defeated by weapons and military actions; that Iraq's problems will not be resolved in this way," the statement added.

It did not, however, indicate whether the KRG was ready to cancel the results of last month's controversial referendum, which Baghdad has set as a condition for any potential talks.

On Sept. 25, Iraqis in KRG-controlled-held areas and in several disputed parts of the country voted on whether or not to declare independence from the Iraqi state.

According to poll results announced by the KRG, almost 93 percent of those who cast ballots voted in favor of independence.

The illegitimate referendum has faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors, including the U.S., Turkey, and Iran, who had warned that the poll would distract Iraq's fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region.

In response to last month's referendum, the Iraqi armed forces were deployed to Kirkuk this week and to other disputed areas following a withdrawal of peshmerga forces.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday he considered the referendum "a thing of the past," and asked that the KRG cancel the outcome of the vote as a precondition for negotiations to begin.

An Iraqi oil ministry official in Baghdad said Thursday that Iraq would not be able to restore Kirkuk's oil output to levels before Sunday because of missing equipment at two fields.

The official accused the Iraqi Kurdish authorities previously in control of Kirkuk of removing equipment at the Bai Hasan and Avana oil fields, located northwest of the city.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces on Friday took control of the last district in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk following a three-hour battle. The district of Altunköprü lies on the road between the city of Kirkuk, which fell to Iraqi forces on Monday, and Irbil.

Peshmerga forces withdrew from the town of Altunköprü, located on the Zab River, after battling the advancing Iraqi troops with machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, security sources said.

Iraq's federal authority claims the region for itself as it was part of the areas acquired by the Iraqi Kurds in 2014 when Iraqi soldiers gave up their posts in the face of a Daesh advance.

Later in the day, Iraqi and Kurdish forces were reported to have exchanged fire in the area days after Kurds withdrew from disputed territories across northern Iraq. The Iraqi Kurdish forces responded with rocket fire. Peshmerga authorities have also sent reinforcements to the front lines.

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