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THE STANS
Iraq halts Kurd attack, moves on IS; Demands Kurds hand over border post
By Sammy Ketz
Baghdad, Iraq (AFP) Oct 27, 2017


Iraq demands Kurds hand over border post, squeezes IS
Baghdad, Iraq (AFP) Oct 27, 2017 - Iraqi forces on Friday issued an ultimatum for Kurdish fighters to hand over a key border post with Turkey, as Baghdad's troops also battled to wipe out the Islamic State group in the country.

Baghdad is currently engaged on two separate fronts: pushing a final offensive to eradicate the jihadists along the western border with Syria, while looking to snatch back disputed territory from the Kurds in the north.

Iraqi forces on Thursday mounted a new assault on Kurdish fighters in the strategic Zummar area of Nineveh province, triggering heavy artillery exchanges in the latest flare-up of a crisis sparked by an independence vote last month.

After claiming the capture of several villages, Baghdad laid down a tight deadline to the Kurds to withdraw from the area around the Fishkhabur border post "within several hours", a government source told AFP.

But the Kurds insisted they had managed to repulse all Iraqi advances and gave no indication they were willing to abandon the crucial oil export route, where rival pipelines belonging to both sides cross into Turkey.

There had been fears the bitter dispute that has deepened between the Baghdad government and Iraqi Kurdish leaders since they held a referendum for independence would hamper the battle against IS.

But buoyed by a string of recent military successes, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is pressing ahead with the dual offensives.

- Clashes with IS -

As the latest push began against the Kurds, Abadi also announced the start of an offensive to retake the "last den" of IS jihadists in the country around the town of Al-Qaim in the Euphrates valley on the border with Syria.

An Iraqi general told AFP that troops backed up by local Sunni militiamen bombarded IS with missiles and mortars south of the town on Friday as they tried to press early gains.

Iraqi forces backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition have recaptured 95 percent of the territory IS seized in the country in 2014, dismantling their self-styled caliphate.

Al-Qaim has been renowned as a hotbed of jihadist insurgency ever since the 2003 US-led invasion. Coalition commanders have dubbed the latest operation "the last big fight" in the campaign against IS.

The jihadists are also battling for survival in adjoining territory they hold in Syria, where competing offensives backed by Russia and the US are looking to drive them back.

- UN pushes Iraq, Kurds -

The US -- which has armed and trained both Iraqi and Kurdish forces -- has tried to calm tensions between the erstwhile allies in the fight against IS and refocus attention on the jihadists.

The UN Security Council on Thursday urged Iraq's government and Kurdish leaders to set a timetable for talks on ending their conflict that has seen Baghdad snatch back swathes of territory in a lightning sweep since mid-October.

A mainly bloodless advance by Iraqi forces saw them take reclaim the entire oil-rich province of Kirkuk, stripping the Kurds of a major chunk of their oil revenues and dealing a crippling blow to their hopes of independence.

The latest push around Fishkhabur now risks taking them into territory inside the three core provinces that make up the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The area where the borders of Iraq, Turkey and Syria converge is also a key economic hub for US-backed Kurdish forces across the frontier, with Iraq alleging it is used to smuggle out fuel.

Baghdad insists it has the right under Iraq's constitution to control the border and aims to revive a defunct pipeline that runs from the oilfields of Kirkuk to the area of the border crossing to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Iraqi forces Friday paused operations against the Kurds to allow for talks after clashes over a key border crossing, as Baghdad pushed on with a separate offensive against the Islamic State group.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the 24-hour halt as his troops faced off with Kurdish fighters on the second day of a drive to capture the vital oil export point of Fishkhabur on the Turkish frontier.

The freeze should help de-escalate fighting after the two sides -- both armed and trained by the US -- exchanged heavy artillery fire in the latest flare-up of a crisis sparked by a Kurdish independence vote last month.

But Abadi kept the pressure on the Kurds by saying that the day-long pause was aimed at allowing a joint committee involving officials from Baghdad and the autonomous region "to work on deploying federal forces in all of the disputed zones".

Iraqi forces on Thursday mounted a new assault on Kurdish fighters in the strategic Zummar area of Nineveh province, tightening the screws after seizing swathes of territory in a lightning advance since mid-October.

After claiming the capture of several villages, fighting died down earlier Friday as a government source told AFP that Baghdad had given the Kurds an ultimatum to withdraw from the area around Fishkhabur "within several hours".

To the south an AFP photographer reported that Iraqi troops had meanwhile retaken the Rabia border post with Syria from the Kurds.

The Kurds insist they have managed to repulse the latest Iraqi advances and have given no indication of being willing to abandon crucial Fishkabur, where rival pipelines belonging to both sides cross into Turkey.

There have been fears the bitter dispute between the Baghdad government and Iraqi Kurdish leaders would hamper the battle against IS, with the UN calling for talks on Thursday.

A Kurdish official said the US-led coalition that has backed both the Kurds and the Iraqi forces in the fight against the jihadists had pushed them towards negotiations.

The bloodless advance by Iraqi forces has seen them reclaim the entire oil-rich province of Kirkuk, stripping the Kurds of a major chunk of their oil revenues and dealing a crippling blow to their hopes of independence.

The latest push on Fishkhabur risked taking them into territory inside the three core provinces that make up the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The area where the borders of Iraq, Turkey and Syria converge is also a key economic hub for US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria, with Iraq alleging it is used to smuggle out fuel.

Baghdad insists it has the right under Iraq's constitution to control the border and aims to revive a defunct pipeline that runs from the oilfields of Kirkuk to the area of the border crossing to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

- Clashes with IS -

Despite diverting forces for the push against the Kurds, Baghdad nonetheless on Thursday began an offensive to retake the "last den" of IS jihadists in the country around the town of Al-Qaim in the Euphrates valley on the border with Syria.

An Iraqi general told AFP that troops backed by local Sunni militiamen bombarded IS with missiles and mortar fire south of the town on Friday as they tried to press early gains.

Several officers reported that three fighters from Baghdad's Hashed al-Shaabi irregular force were killed, while claiming that some 20 jihadists also died.

The army released a photograph of a burnt-out vehicle in the barren desert landscape and said that its servicemen had managed to destroy a car suicide bomb before it reached their lines.

Iraqi forces backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition have recaptured 95 percent of the territory IS seized in the country in 2014, dismantling their self-styled caliphate.

Al-Qaim has been renowned as a hotbed of jihadist insurgency ever since the 2003 US-led invasion. Coalition commanders have dubbed the latest operation "the last big fight" in the campaign against IS.

The jihadists are also battling for survival in adjoining territory they hold in Syria, where competing offensives backed by Russia and the US are looking to drive them back.

THE STANS
UN pushes Kurd talks; Iraq, Turkey dismiss offer to freeze vote
United Nations, United States (AFP) Oct 26, 2017
The UN Security Council on Thursday urged the Iraqi government and regional leaders in Kurdistan to set a timetable for talks to end a crisis triggered by last month's Kurdish referendum on independence. The appeal from the top UN body came after Baghdad dismissed an offer from Iraqi Kurdish leaders to freeze the outcome of the referendum, which delivered a resounding yes to independence, an ... read more

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