Iraqi forces threatened on Wednesday to resume operations to capture northern Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)-held territory after accusing authorities there of delaying handing over control of Iraq's borders with Turkey, Iran and Syria.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday declared a pause in an offensive that began on Oct. 16 to take over areas claimed both by his government and the autonomous KRG. Abadi ordered economic and military retaliation against the KRG after Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in September in a referendum that Baghdad declared illegal.
He said the truce was meant to allow Iraqi troops to be deployed without hindrance in disputed areas and along the international borders.
KRG officials said on Tuesday they were willing to allow Iraqi "oversight" at the border but said that the KRG had to remain in control of crossings into the Kurdish region.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command accused the KRG of using the talks to "buy time" to strengthen Irbil's lines.
"During negotiations, the [KRG] region was moving its forces and building new defenses," the Iraqi statement said. "We will not allow it; the federal forces are mandated to secure [the disputed] areas and borders."
Meanwhile, KRG authorities said on Thursday that they have offered a joint KRG-Iraqi deployment at a strategic crossing with Turkey, with the participation of representatives from the U.S.-led coalition fighting Daesh terrorists.
The KRG's Peshmerga Affairs, or defense department, said the offer was part of a five-point "de-confliction" proposal given to the Iraqi government on Oct. 31. The other points included a ceasefire on all fronts, continued cooperation in the fight against Daesh and a joint deployment in so-called disputed territories, which are areas claimed by both the KRG and the Iraqi central government.
The KRG "continues to welcome a permanent ceasefire on all fronts, de-confliction and the start of political dialogue" with Baghdad, the statement said.
Joint deployment at the strategic Fish-Khabur border crossing was meant to be "a gesture of goodwill and a trust-building exercise that ensures a limited and temporary arrangement until an agreement is reached in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution," the KRG statement said.
Fish-Khabur is strategically important for the KRG region because it is the point where its oil pipeline crosses into Turkey.
Iraq's entire land border with Turkey is located inside the KRG autonomous region and has been controlled by Irbil since before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Iraqis troops on Tuesday set up positions between the Turkish and Iraqi-Kurdish checkpoints at the Habur border crossing between the Turkish town of Silopi and the Iraqi town of Zakho. The checkpoint means that vehicles crossing the border are subject to three checks.
Following the controversial independence referendum in the KRG and Baghdad-disputed regions on Sept. 25, Iraqi forces and the allied predominantly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) moved on Oct. 16 to force the KRG out of the disputed areas, which include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the town of Khanaqin near the border with Iran and the town of Sinjar near the border with Syria.
KRG President Barzani insisted on holding a referendum despite many warnings from Ankara at the cost of Irbil and the region. Baghdad, Turkey, Iran, the U.S. and the UN have all spoken out against the referendum, saying it will only distract from the ongoing fight against Daesh and further destabilize the region.
Turkey, Iraq discuss Kirkuk oil exports via Ceyhan port
Control of the border area is of crucial importance for the landlocked Kurdish region. An oil pipeline runs from Northern Iraq into Turkey, carrying crude exports that are the KRG's principal source of funds.
Ankara is negotiating a likely deal with Baghdad to import oil from Kirkuk through the port at Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar Ali al-Luaibi announced Wednesday.
"We are negotiating with the Turkish government to export oil from Kirkuk via the Ceyhan port. However, no final agreement has been reached yet," he said.
Iraq is the second-largest crude oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after Saudi Arabia and holds the world's fifth-largest proven crude oil reserves after Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Iran, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).