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Iraqi Kurds deny PKK forces posted in Kirkuk
by Staff Writers
Arbil, Iraq (AFP) Oct 15, 2017

Disputed territory at heart of Iraq-Kurd crisis
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 15, 2017 - The crisis between Iraq's central government and the autonomous Kurdish region is rooted in a long-standing dispute over territory stretching from the Syrian border to the frontier with Iran.

The territory, located south of the provinces of Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk, is more than 1,000 kilometres long (620 miles) and covers 37,000 square kilometres (14,000 sq miles).

The three provinces in the rugged, mountainous north of Iraq form the Kurdish region which has been autonomous since 1991.

The disputed territory also includes parts of Salaheddin, Nineveh and Diyala provinces, and the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, the latter being the main bone of contention between Baghdad and the Kurds.

Iraqi Kurdistan, as recognised by Baghdad, is home to 5.5 million people and covers 75,000 square kilometres.

It became autonomous after the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait, as Western powers intervened to protect the Kurds against an onslaught by the forces of dictator Saddam Hussein.

The region gained formal autonomy in 2005 under a constitution which set up a federal republic in Iraq.

For the Kurds, the autonomous region enshrined in the constitution falls short of their historical claims to a larger region also including Kirkuk and its oil fields.

Kurdish peshmerga forces have been in sole control of a chunk of Kirkuk province since federal forces withdrew when faced with an offensive by the Islamic State group in 2014.

They also moved into other disputed areas.

In stages, the peshmerga took control of 23,000 square kilometres across Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salaheddin and Diyala provinces.

They also hold the Makhmur region, which the Kurds claim as part of Arbil province although Iraqi authorities in the 1990s placed it under the jurisdiction of Nineveh.

Kurdish forces, key allies in the US-backed offensive against IS, are now refusing to surrender positions they took during the fightback against the jihadists.

Ties between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan have been strained since the Kurds held a September 25 independence vote, including in Kirkuk, in defiance of the central government.

Iraqi Kurd officials on Sunday denied PKK forces were among its peshmerga fighters in the disputed oil province of Kirkuk, although they could include sympathisers of Turkey's outlawed Kurdish group.

"There are no PKK forces in Kirkuk, but there are some volunteers who sympathise with the PKK," the Kurdistan Workers' Party, said General Jabar Yawer, head of the peshmerga ministry.

There were also "other volunteers, independents and Islamists fighting Daesh since 2014", he added, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

"They support the peshmerga. They are irregular forces," Yawer said.

Another ministry official also denied their presence, after Baghdad earlier said the PKK were among peshmerga fighters in an armed standoff with Iraqi troops in Kirkuk, charging it amounted to a "declaration of war".

The allegations came just hours before the expiry of a deadline for peshmerga fighters to withdraw from areas they took in Kirkuk in 2014 during a fightback against IS.

Crisis talks on Sunday made little headway in resolving an armed standoff between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the province.

Tensions have soared between the central government and Iraqi Kurds since they overwhelmingly voted for independence in a September 25 referendum whose results Baghdad has demanded be nullified.

Baghdad says PKK presence in Kirkuk amounts to 'declaration of war'
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 15, 2017 - Baghdad said Sunday that PKK fighters were among Kurdish forces in a standoff with the Iraqi army in the disputed oil province of Kirkuk, in what it said amounted to a "declaration of war".

The National Security Council said it viewed as a "dangerous escalation" and a "declaration of war" the presence of "fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk", including fighters from Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"It is impossible to remain silent" faced with "a declaration of war towards Iraqis and government forces", the council headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.

"The central government and regular forces will carry out their duty of defending the Iraqi people in all its components including the Kurds, and of defending Iraq's sovereignty and unity," it added.

The statement came just hours before the expiry of a deadline for Kurdish peshmerga fighters to withdraw from areas they took in Kirkuk in 2014 during the fightback against the Islamic State jihadist group.

Crisis talks on Sunday made little headway in resolving an armed standoff between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the province.

Tensions have soared between the central government and Iraqi Kurds since they overwhelmingly voted for independence in a September 25 referendum, whose results Baghdad has demanded be nullified.

Baghdad gives ultimatum on Kirkuk pullback: Kurds
Sulaimaniyah, Iraq (AFP) Oct 14, 2017 - Baghdad has set a pre-dawn Sunday deadline for Kurdish forces to abandon positions in the disputed oil province of Kirkuk they took during the fightback against the Islamic State group, a senior Kurdish official said.

The reported ultimatum comes as thousands of Iraqi troops and allied militia are locked in an armed standoff with Kurdish peshmerga fighters near ethnically divided but historically Kurdish-majority Kirkuk.

Tensions have soared between the erstwhile allies in the war against IS since a Kurdish vote for independence last month, drawing urgent appeals for calm from the US-led coalition supporting the campaign.

"The deadline set for the peshmerga to return to their pre-June 6, 2014 positions will expire during the night," the Kurdish official told AFP, asking not to be identified.

Asked at what time, he said 2 am on Sunday (2300 GMT Saturday).

The official's comments came as Iraqi President Fuad Masum, who is himself a Kurd, was holding urgent talks with Kurdish leaders in the city of Sulaimaniyah in the south of the autonomous Kurdish region.

No statements have emerged from the meetings.

On Friday, Iraqi troops took over formerly Kurdish-held positions in the south of Kirkuk province, including in the mainly Shiite Turkmen town of Taza Khurmatu.

In June 2014, IS fighters swept through vast areas north and west of Baghdad, prompting many Iraqi army units to disintegrate and Kurdish forces to step in.

They did so primarily in historically Kurdish-majority areas they had long sought to incorporate in their three-province autonomous region in the north against the strong opposition of Baghdad.

The Kurds currently control the city of Kirkuk and three major oil fields in the province which account for a significant share of the regional government's oil revenues.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that Washington was working to reduce tensions between Iraqi federal and Kurdish forces, urging them to remain focused on the war against jihadists.

"We are trying to tone everything down and to figure out how we go forward without losing sight of the enemy, and at the same time recognising that we have got to find a way to move forward," he told reporters.

"Everybody stay focused on defeating ISIS. We can't turn on each other right now. We don't want to go to a shooting situation," he added, using an alternative acronym for IS.

Iraq ratchets up pressure on Kurds after independence vote
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 9, 2017
Iraq's central government on Monday unleashed a legal barrage against Kurdish officials and sought to seize key businesses in a fresh bid to tighten the screws over a disputed independence referendum. The latest moves come exactly two weeks after an overwhelming majority of voters in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region backed independence in a non-binding ballot slammed as illegal by Baghdad ... read more

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