A Peshmerga stands watch. The deputy minister said the Peshmerga will not initiate a war with Iraq, but are ready to defend. File photo: Rudaw
The Peshmerga, in talks with an Iraqi military delegation to resolve a territorial dispute and reach a lasting ceasefire, have told their Iraqi counterparts that they are not ready to hand over the border crossings of Fish Khabur and Ibrahim Khalil to the Iraqi army and Shiite militias, Sarbast Lazgin, deputy Peshmerga minister, told Rudaw.
The two sides have met in Mosul several times since October 28 after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared a ceasefire following deadly clashes, mainly in disputed areas.
The Iraqi side has several demands that centre on exerting sole federal control over disputed areas and the international borders. Kurds have proposed joint deployments, including civilians and coalition forces, and complained that the Iraqi delegation is not leaving any room for negotiation.
Lazgin also hinted that the Iraqi army was building up its forces in the north of the country, near Peshmerga positions, after concluding operations against ISIS in Anbar province.
The Peshmerga are also facing internal difficulties after some units pulled out of Kirkuk area and allowed Iraqi forces and Shiite militias to take over on October 16. Some Kurds have subsequently accused others of treason.
Lazgin said that while there were plans to reorganize the forces, no units have been dismantled and the Peshmerga as a whole remain united.
Rudaw: What are the subjects of talks between the Peshmerga and Iraqi army?
We have held talks and are awaiting a response from Baghdad. They have understood the message very well that we are not ready to handover Ibrahim Khalil, Fish Khabur, and some other strategic places which have direct influence on the security of Kurdistan Region cities. But, through the context of political talks between Erbil and Baghdad, we are ready to administrate them with coalition partners.
How long the ceasefire will last?
There is no official ceasefire. If they don’t initiate attacks, this itself means there is a ceasefire on the ground because the Peshmerga never initiate war. In our talks, we stressed the declaration of truce in all areas. They have not yet answered us.
What is the position of the Americans regarding the talks?
The Americans are attending the meetings as observers and a third party wanting us to reach an agreement. The Americans have
We did not kneel for Saddam and will not do it for others
understood the dangerous [intentions] of the Hashd al-Shaabi regarding controlling these areas.
In his speech, Barzani expressed wonder at the stance of America. Did you in the talks criticize the position of the USA?
The USA sees with its own eyes that the Hashd al-Shaabi is attacking us with their weapons while they are a threat on all sides. It is so unfortunate that the Iraqi army and even Haider al-Abadi are currently under the control of the Hashd al-Shaabi.
The General Command of the Joint Forces issued a statement saying the Peshmerga deceived them while they were busy fortifying their positions. Is that true?
On the contrary, they took advantage of the talks and brought in more reinforcements after finishing fighting in al-Qaim, Rawa, and Anah in west Anbar in order to prepare themselves to fight Kurdistan. They had this intention and thus, mentioned that in the statement. We told the Iraqi military delegation that we should shift military talks into political talks, but they said they were there to execute orders and have no relations with the political questions.
Who are the Hashd al-Shaabi groups in standoff with the Peshmerga? Can’t you take advantage of Shiite-Kurdish relations to end the fighting?
They carry out their own strategies and are under the hegemony of Iran. They believe in exporting the Iranian Islamic revolution. Their strategies could clearly be seen in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Lebanon. Some Shiite groups want Kurds to become their servants if some Kurds accept it. As the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), it is impossible for us to accept it. We do not act as
For us, this war is a war of defense and ideology
servants for Iran, not Turkey, or Iraq. No matter how strong they are, they cannot reach the strength of Saddam Hussein’s army. We did not kneel for Saddam and will not do it for others.
Do you expect any incursion by the Hashd al-Shaabi and Iraqi army after the al-Qaim operations?
There are no good intentions behind the buildup of forces in west Tigris. If they have already decided to attack in order to separate South Kurdistan [Kurdistan Region] from Rojava [northern Syria] and capture Fish Khabur and Ibrahim Khalil crossings, we will certainly and strongly respond to them and defend.
The Americans have dispatched military supplies to Rojava using Fish Khabur. What is their stance?
Splitting Rojava from South Kurdistan [Kurdistan Region] is a huge blow to us. Thus, we do not accept they enter the area by the use of force. The military supplies sent to Rojava through Fish Khabur by the United States have certainly been with the consent of the Kurdistan Region. We have frankly told Baghdad that we will in no way allow the army and the Hashd al-Shaabi to come to the Region. They will undoubtedly have a say, too.
Some say that after the Peshmerga destroyed two American Abrahams tanks, the balance of power has changed and Baghdad is afraid of some weapons the Peshmerga are using.
The Iraqi army is trying to investigate how the weapons of the Peshmerga destroyed such advanced tanks. We possess many anti-tank missiles and other types of missiles. But I am repeating it again that a weapon is a tool to grant you success in war. For us, this war is a war of defense and ideology.
In the wake of the October 16 events, there were claims that the Peshmerga Ministry’s joint brigades would be dismantled. Is that true?
No brigade has been dismantled as of yet. Unfortunately after the Kirkuk events, some brigades from the Seventy Unit forces
[In Kirkuk] if some defense was put up, the situation would not have reached what it is now
withdrew and abandoned their duties. The Peshmerga of the Eighty Unit are still there. We are studying a mechanism to put the brigades in order. No decision has been made to dismantle the joint brigades. Some forces within the Seventy Unit were not ready to leave their positions and some others also in Dubiz were not willing to withdraw and told us they would fight to the end. The Seventy Unit is on duty in Bashik now. Mr. Kosrat Rasul and Sheikh Jaafar Mustafa are busy trying to reorganize the Seventy Unit forces. We are waiting for them to finish the work so we can altogether reorganize our forces.
The Americans’ condition to continue supporting the Peshmerga was unity among you. Does their assistance continue?
Yes, they continue.
Did you have early knowledge about the October 16 conspiracy so that you could replace those forces that were pulled out?
Indeed, we were not aware of any early plot. At dawn, around 4 [on October 16], I saw Kosrat Rasul and Sheikh Jaafar. They were very seriously watching the situation. Sheikh Jaafar informed us that there was a tactical withdrawal in a place and that a trench would be dug around Kirkuk. But it turned out later the forces were all pulled out. The October 16 events were a conspiracy which later affected all the other places. Several other fighting fronts were opened to the Peshmerga. Unfortunately, if some defense was put up, the situation would not have reached what it is now. It turned out in Pirde and Mahmudia how important defense was.