A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier trains with Combined Joint Task Force counterparts as part of Operation Inherent Resolve in October 2015 near Erbil. Photo: US Army
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Contrary to Iraqi media reports, Kurdish Peshmerga forces have not returned to the disputed territories, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Ministry of Peshmerga said Sunday.
The ministry said there is merely an understanding with the Iraqi Defense Ministry to send Peshmerga to certain disputed areas to take part in joint anti-ISIS operations.
“So far there have not been any official talks or meetings between the Ministry of Peshmerga and Iraqi Defense Ministry regarding the return of Peshmerga forces to the areas outside the Kurdistan Region’s administration,” Ministry of Peshmerga chief of staff Jabar Yawar said in a statement.
The statement followed reports in Iraqi media about an agreement between the governments.
“There is an initial agreement between Defense Ministry and Peshmerga Ministry regarding the return of Peshmerga forces to disputed areas,” Mawazin news agency reported on Sunday, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.
Their source said a delegation from the Defense Ministry will visit the Kurdistan Region to “activate the agreement” in the coming days.
Yawar said both ministries understand they have to work together to quell the feared ISIS resurgence in the disputed territories – areas claimed by both the federal government and Erbil.
They have merely “come up with the idea that the best way to eradicate Daesh terrorists and end their movements and terrorist activities in Diyala, Saladin, Kirkuk, Makhmour, and Mosul is joint operations between Peshmerga forces and Iraqi Army against Daesh and in this regard we are expecting formal meetings to find appropriate mechanism,” read the statement, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
On October 16, 2017, in response to the Kurdistan independence referendum, the Iraqi Army and Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitias marched into Kirkuk and took over several of the disputed territories. Baghdad did this with the support of Iran, Turkey, European states, and the US, which had warned Erbil not to hold its referendum.
The Peshmerga clashed with Iraqi forces on several fronts, but prevented them from entering the Kurdistan Region itself. The events of October 16 are nevertheless widely seen by Kurds has a humiliating setback on the road to independence.
After the Iraqi takeover, Kurdish officials in Kirkuk were removed from office and Kurdish farmers either prevented from cultivating their land or driven away by Arab settlers. The feared resumption of government-sanctioned Arabization has done nothing to ease hostility.
The security gaps and instability caused by the takeover have also allowed ISIS remnants to regroup and resume a low scale insurgency.
Tensions between Erbil and Baghdad have receded somewhat over the past year, with Kurdish and Iraqi leaders meeting to resolve disputes over political representation, budgets, borders, customs, airports, roads, and most importantly oil.
Article 140 and the normalization of Kirkuk, however, remain elusive.