Kurdish Peshmerga forces (back) hold their position on a river bank across from Iraqi forces on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. October 14, 2017 / Photo: AFP / Ahmad al-Rubaye
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry dismissed claims that their forces were joined by the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Kirkuk as reinforcements to Peshmerga against the Iraqi army and Shiite Haashd al-Shabai which are in a standoff.
“The Peshmerga Ministry of the Kurdistan Region reject claims that the PKK guerrillas are present in Kirkuk,” Halgurd Hikmat, the spokesperson of the Peshmerga Ministry told Rudaw, adding “it is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Qassem Soleimani who are publicly with Hashd al-Shaabi.”
The Iraqi prime minister’s office had claimed in an announcement that there were PKK fighters among the Peshmerga in Kirkuk earlier on Sunday.
In the statement, Iraq’s National Security Council warned "This is a declaration of war against other Iraqis and legal security forces,” it added.
Hikmat reiterated that “the PKK are not with the Peshmerga. It is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who can openly be seen among the Hashd al-Shaabi. Qassem Soleimani who is always among the Haashd al-Shaabi forces.”
Major General Qassem Soleimani is the commander of Iran’s Quds Force.
Saad Hadithi, spokesperson of the Iraqi government told Rudaw TV on Sunday night that Soleimani plays a role as military adviser to Hashd al-Shaabi.
Concerning refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who fled to Peshmerga controlled territories, Hikmat added “we are not stopping anyone from returning home. On contrary, we would like them to return to their areas easing the burden on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). But they do not want to return.”
He added this because “their villages have not been cleared of mines and munitions and not received any services. It is the Iraqi government itself not helping them.”
In the wake of the independence referendum, Baghdad took a set of punitive measures against the Region, mainly the deployment of troops to disputed or Kurdistan areas, notably Kirkuk, a flight ban to and from the Kurdistan Region and border closure which was enforced by Iran on Sunday per Baghdad's request.
The Kurdish Peshmerga are locked in an armed standoff with the Iraqi army and Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.