Iraq, Kurds in talks for ceasefire
Iraqi forces and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are in talks to stop fighting in northern Iraq, a spokesperson for the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition said on Oct. 27.
Col. Ryan Dillon, who earlier in the day announced that an agreement was reached, said he incorrectly announced a ceasefire and that while talks are ongoing and clashes had temporarily ceased, an official ceasefire had not been declared.
Tensions between the Iraqi central government and Kurdish authorities have been running high since KRG’s Sept. 25 independence referendum, in which more than 90 percent voted in favor of independence.
The independence referendum was held in the three provinces that make up the Kurds’ autonomous zone, as well as in a string of territories claimed by Baghdad, but at the time controlled by Kurdish forces.
Iraqi government forces and the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization launched a surprise offensive on Oct. 16 in retaliation to the vote and retook the disputed city of Kirkuk and other areas outside the autonomous Kurdish region that the Kurds had seized from the ISIL.
ISIL conquered those areas after sweeping across the country in 2014. Most of the Kurdish forces withdrew without a fight, but reports of low-level clashes continued and tensions remained.
KRG officials offered this week to “freeze” the results of the vote, but Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi rejected the offer on Oct. 26, demanding the annulment of the vote and the transfer of border control and other infrastructure to federal forces.
“We won’t accept anything but its cancellation and the respect of the constitution,” he said in a statement during a visit to Tehran.
Similarly, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Oct. 26 deemed the KRG proposal “significant but insufficient.”
The U.S.-led coalition has been warning the sides that the dispute was distracting from the fight against ISIL.
The coalition said Iraqi and Kurdish troop movements and skirmishes stretched its intelligence and surveillance assets.
Drones that previously kept watch over ISIL have been diverted to flashpoints in the disputed areas.
Dillon said on Oct. 26 the infighting had also hindered the movement of military equipment and supplies to forces battling ISIL in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Iraqi forces are currently fighting against ISIL in the last pocket of territory the group holds in western Anbar province along the border with Syria.
The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, urged the Iraqi government and regional leaders in the KRG to set a timetable for talks to end a crisis.
“Council members noted that the federal and regional governments have both expressed willingness to engage in dialogue,” said French Ambassador Francois Delattre, who holds this month’s council presidency.
“We encourage them to expeditiously set a timetable to hold these discussions,” Delattre told reporters after the meeting on Oct. 26.
Meanwhile, speaking in Geneva on Oct. 26, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was “disappointed that the parties have been unable to reach an entirely peaceful resolution” and that he had encouraged Abadi to accept the KRG “overtures for talks on the basis of the Iraqi constitution.”