Lieutenant General Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Kurdistan Regional Government Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, speaks during a press conference in Erbil on November 5, 2017. Photo: AFP / Safin Hamed
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga ministry has suggested joint deployment of Iraqi and Kurdish forces to the disputed areas and international borders between the Kurdistan Region and its neighbors, but Iraq has so far refused the proposal, Secretary General of the Peshmerga ministry told reporters.
Kurdish and Iraqi military officials have so far met three times to find a solution to tensions between the two sides. The main obstacle to reaching an agreement is that the Iraqi military “want all their demands be implemented, without leaving any space for negotiation,” Jabar Yawar said at a press conference Sunday evening in Erbil.
The US-led anti-ISIS Coalition has been overseeing the talks and acting Peshmerga minister Karim Sinjari will meet with the Coalition on Monday in Erbil, Yawar said.
The Peshmerga have also shared their position and progress on the talks in a Sunday meeting attended by Kurdish political officials, including the head of the Department of Foreign Relations, with foreign missions present in Erbil.
Kurds and Iraqis have each presented the other with their suggestions for how to resolve tensions that escalated in the wake of Kurdistan’s independence referendum and Iraq’s takeover of the disputed areas.
One issue to be resolved is control over Kurdistan Region’s international borders and the disputed territories claimed by both governments. The Peshmerga want to joint deployment of forces to these areas.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said that the international borders must be under the “exclusive” authority of the federal government. The Iraqi parliament on October 31 voted to allow only federal forces to be stationed in disputed areas, including the oil-rich Kirkuk province.
“They have backtracked from a joint mechanism” that had been agreed before the war on ISIS, Yawar said, explaining that Iraqi forces want exclusive control over the borders and disputed areas.
On October 31, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command stated that the army’s chief of staff General Othman al-Ghanim, who is part Iraq’s team negotiating with the Peshmerga, visited Iraqi troops both in Iraq and across the border in Turkey to put the final touches on the deployment of federal forces to all areas that had come under Kurdish control after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Yawar said negotiation is about give and take, but the Iraqis have so far shown that they are not prepared to do that. He added that the Kurdish side has “no red lines” for the talks, provided they are held in light of the Iraqi constitution.
He revealed that the Peshmerga had offered to set in place a joint mechanism with Iraqi forces in the disputed areas before the Kirkuk takeover on October 16, but this was rejected by Baghdad.
Regarding the issue of the border crossings, he said it is up to the ministries of interior, finance, and commerce from the governments of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq to “establish a mechanism to administer the border gates.”
He said the border crossings fall under civilian authority and so military forces should not be needed. However, he added, if Baghdad “insists” on the deployment of forces, the Peshmerga are ready then to allow for a unit from the Iraqi military and the Peshmerga to be jointly deployed.
He said the Iraqi side wants to replace existing border guards with Iraqi ones to control the Kurdistan Region’s frontiers with both Iran and Turkey.
Asked about the demand from Abadi that the Peshmerga should either come under Iraqi command and receive their salaries from the central government or be downsized to a small, local force paid by the Kurdistan Regional Government, Yawar said this question had been settled about a decade ago.
In 2007, there was an agreement between the Iraqi and Kurdish forces signed by their respective defense ministers, Yawar explained. But it was not presented to the Iraqi parliament.
The agreement outlines the mission, types of weapons, and budget of the Peshmerga as part of the Iraqi defense system, as well as the mechanism on how to cooperate with the Iraqi army and security forces. This agreement was sponsored by the US-alliance that invaded Iraq in 2003, Yawar explained.
He said the Iraqi parliament should ratify this agreement, just as it did for the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi in 2016 when it approved the move in a matter of hours.
Yawar said they believe the current problems between Erbil and Baghdad are “political, not military” and so called for political dialogue to resolve the military tensions.
Saying that the Peshmerga do not want to engage in a fight with the Iraqis, Yawar stressed that “Our only enemy is terrorism.”
Asked about the twin suicide attacks in Kirkuk on Sunday that killed five people, Yawar said extremists will take advantage of the situation as the military standoff continues. This danger, he said, will pose a threat to the Kurdistan Region and the rest of Iraq.
He said the two sides should be focused on the war against ISIS, instead of using their resources against each other.
The Peshmerga lost 60 soldiers and another 150 have been injured in fighting against the Iraqi forces and the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi since October 16, Yawar stated.