Rudaw file photo of Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq will not fight the Kurds, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday, adding that their duty is to preserve the unity and integrity of the country. Meanwhile a Shiite commander said his forces are on alert, by order of the prime minister.
“We will not use our army against our people or fight a war against our Kurdish and other citizens,” Abadi said in a large-scale meeting with Anbar province’s local authorities. Portions of Anbar province remain one of the last territories still under control of ISIS after the group was defeated this year in Mosul, Tal Afar, and Hawija.
Abadi, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said that Baghdad’s main duty is to “preserve the unity of the country and the application of the constitution and the protection of the citizens and national wealth.”
He also said they were “working hard towards the restoration of stability” in the country.
Kurds, however, are concerned about the imminent possibility of conflict.
The Kurdistan Region Security Council announced in a tweet on Wednesday that they have been receiving “dangerous messages” that the Iraqi forces including Shiite militia Hashd al-Shaabi were preparing “major attacks” from several sides against Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in a separate statement warned that “Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is to blame for any disputes or violence which may erupt in disputed areas.”
Abadi on Tuesday warned the Peshmerga against any “confrontation” with Iraqi security forces, including the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, in the disputed areas, while calling on the Kurdish fighters to act on orders from the Iraqi government, as there should be “one leadership, not two.”
Abu Azrael, a prominent commander of the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, revealed to Rudaw on Thursday that their forces are on alert upon orders from Abadi, ready to launch an incursion into Kirkuk.
Azrael said Abadi held a meeting with high-ranking military and security officials in Baghdad’s Green Zone where the premier ordered five different forces from the Hashd al-Shaabi, the elite Golden Division, Federal Police, and the Army to prepare for deployment to disputed areas and possible attack, particularly on Kirkuk.
“All the forces are fully prepared and on alert. They are waiting orders from superiors to attack. But they never want to fight the Peshmerga forces and Kurds,” he said.
According to Azrael, some commanders refused to fight against the Kurds, including Haji Shibl Zaidi, commander of the Shiite Imam Ali regiment.
He also cryptically predicted big changes in Kurdistan within the next two days, without providing details.
Peshmerga forces temporarily closed the main roads connecting Erbil and Duhok to Mosul to prevent any possibility of attacks on the Kurdistan Region.
Pressed whether Baghdad will eventually use the power of its armed forces against Erbil if the Kurdish government refused to give in to Baghdad demands, Iraq's National Security Adviser Falah Fayadh said on Friday that Baghdad will not be the first party to trigger a war.
“Iraq, or the federal government, will not initiate a military operation,” he said, while warning Erbil against using military might to force their authority in the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both governments.
He repeated PM Abadi’s demands for a joint administration of the disputed areas such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, provided that Baghdad will issue orders.