President Masoud Barzani looks on during a meeting with religious leaders in Erbil on August 9, 2017, urging them to encourage people to participate in the upcoming independence referendum on September 25. Photo: AFP/Safin Hamid
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Baghdad wants the Kurdistan Region to withdraw from disputed areas and return to pre-2003 borders between the autonomous region and Iraq, said Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, vowing that the Peshmerga will not retreat from any areas that were taken with the blood of fallen soldiers.
“This is their plan. They say you should go back to the green line,” Barzani said, referring to the line that separated Peshmerga from the army of Saddam Hussein before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
This line “was not the border of Kurdistan,” Barzani told a gathering of Muslim clerics in Erbil on Wednesday.
The pre-2003 borders exclude disputed areas such as Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Tuz Khurmatu, Makhmour, and Zumar from the Kurdistan Region.
During the war against ISIS, the Region has increased its territory by at least 40 percent, bringing many of these disputed areas under its de facto control after the Iraqi army withdrew in the face of advancing ISIS militants.
Barzani said that Erbil has been given only two options when it comes to the disputed, or Kurdistani, areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad: retreat or stay. He said Erbil refuses the first, while the latter may lead to military confrontation.
“If you retreat, how can you say that to the faces of the families of the martyrs? If you stay, you will face a war,” Barzani said.
Kurdistan has lost more than 1,700 Peshmerga since the beginning of the war against ISIS.
Barzani said that the planned independence referendum can work as a peaceful tool to settle outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad.
He reminded attendees that “the culture” of resorting to military means to resolve the Kurdish issue has not changed in Baghdad after decades of genocide against Kurds at the hands of the Iraqi government. He used the example of a 2008 incident in Qaratapa, near Khanaqin.
At that time, he said, the Iraqi army had asked the Peshmerga to deploy troops to the area to clear it of terrorists. The Peshmerga carried out the task during which they lost 18 soldiers and sustained 46 injuries.
The agreement between the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga was that the Kurdish force would withdraw after the military operation.
Barzani said that while the Kurds expected appreciation for their service, instead they received a message from the Iraqi army telling them they had 24 hours to leave the area or face a military confrontation.
“The bell rang for me then,” Barzani said, insisting that Iraq has failed to work as a country with Kurds on an equal footing.