Kurdish government proposes hold on acting on referendum results; opening dialogue with federal government
Violence has erupted between Iraqi and Peshmerga troops after pro-independence vote
The leaders of Iraq’s semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan have proposed holding off on acting on its September independence referendum in an effort to “act responsibly in order to prevent further violence,” in the face of the Iraqi government’s military response to the vote, a statement says.
Iraqi troops, alongside Iran-backed Shia paramilitaries, turned on their former Kurdish allies in the battle against ISIS in response to the referendum, which overwhelmingly favored breaking away from Iraq. Baghdad, Iran and Turkey heavily criticized the vote. Shortly after the plebiscite, Baghdad closed the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) international airspace as part of a series of measures.
“As Iraq and Kurdistan are faced with grave and dangerous circumstances, we are all obliged to act responsibly in order to prevent further violence and clashes between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces,” said the statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG.
Earlier this month, Iraqi government troops swept through disputed areas under Kurdish control, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Kurds gained control of the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk after Iraqi government forces abandoned it during ISIS’ offensive in 2014.
Iraqi Kurdistan and the greater Kirkuk province have an estimated 15% to 25% of Iraq’s oil reserves, with several key oil fields surrounding the city of Kirkuk. Iraq has one of the world’s largest oil reserves.
At least 100,000 people have been displaced, according to the Kurdistan Region Security Council.
The KRG statement, dated October 24, suggested an immediate ceasefire and a halt to all military operations in Iraqi Kurdistan along with a freeze on the referendum results and the commencement of dialogue between the Kurdish and Iraqi administrations.
The Iraqi federal government has not yet responded to the KRG’s proposal.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Monday that his soldiers were told to respect Kurdish citizens, but he wanted to make clear that authority rested with the central government.
“When we entered Kirkuk, we sent a clear message that citizens should be treated respectfully … but there should be a federal authority in Iraq,” Abadi said.
Allies against ISIS
Both Iraq and the Kurds are critical US allies in an oil-rich and strategically important region, with the Kurds providing what’s widely seen as the most capable fighting force in the battle against the terror group.
The KRG statement comes just days after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made an unannounced visit to Iraq, with the express purpose of shoring up rifts between the Iraqi government and its breakaway province.
“We are concerned and a bit saddened by the recent differences that have emerged between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi central government,” Tillerson said as he met Abadi on Monday.
“We have friends both in Baghdad, and we have friends in Erbil, and we encourage both parties to enter into discussion and dialogue.”
Shortly after clashes between Iraqi government forces and Kurdish forces, US President Donald Trump said he was “not taking sides” in the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute.
More than 92% of the roughly 3 million people who cast valid ballots in the autonomous region’s referendum voted “yes” to independence, according to official results announced by the Kurdish electoral commission at the end of September.
The vote has been criticized by American, British and Turkish governments.
However, the KRG has determined that peace is, for the time being at least, preferable to bloodshed.
“Clashes have caused damage to both sides and could lead to a continuous bloodshed, inflicting pain and social unrest among different components of Iraqi society,” the statement said.
CNN’s Ben Wedeman and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.