Iraqi Defense Minister Erfan al-Hayali [L] meets with the Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, in Tehran on July 22, 2017. Photo: IRNA
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Defense Minister Erfan al-Hayali has denied news reports that he had threatened that the Iraqi army would interfere if the Kurdistan Region held a referendum and declared independence. He told Rudaw that the issue of the referendum is “political” in nature and therefore the Iraqi army, and his defense ministry are out of it.
Iranian media, including the Fars News Agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, had quoted the defense chief as saying that the Iraqi army would interfere to foil the Kurdish bid for independence.
Fars News released a correction on Monday.
Al-Hayali who described the news reports as a “blatant lie” told Rudaw on Monday that they do not interfere in political matters.
“With regard to the political situation, we as the defense ministry and the army, will never interfere in this respect,” al-Hayali said.
“As for the referendum, the army will not interfere. It is a political issue,” he added, saying that he did not mention the issue of the referendum at all in his meetings in Iran.
The defense minister explained that he had said the army will preserve the country’s integrity, referring to terrorist organizations.
“We do not allow other units, or other terrorist organizations, to enter [Iraq],” al-Hayali said.
He praised the recent cooperation between the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army, particularly during the launch of the Mosul offensive in October last year when the Peshmerga opened the way for the Iraqi army to initiate attacks against ISIS from Kurdish territories.
He called the Peshmerga a “heroic” force who contributed to the war against ISIS, and added that there is high coordination between the two sides.
In response to al-Hayali’s remarks, deputy Peshmerga Minister, Sarbast Lazgin, told Rudaw on Sunday that the language of threats was over, and that the Peshmerga were ready to defend the Kurdistan Region.
He said Erbil was very clear that it wants to take the path of dialogue to solving their outstanding problems with Baghdad.
Lazgin went on to say “threatening is not good. But we from the Kurdistan Region defend ourselves in face of any possible threats from any place.”
The Iranian media attributed the remarks to Iraq’s defense minister after a meeting with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council over the weekend.
A corrected version of Hayali’s remarks, published by Fars News on Monday has reported that he was referring to “Takfiri terrorist” groups, a term used by Iranian media to describe the Sunni extremist groups, such as ISIS.
"The Iraqi army...has resisted to any occupation or violation against the territory of this country, and does not allow the formation of a new sedition by the Takfiri terrorists and their foreign guardians who are after the disintegration of Iraq,” the Iranian outlet quoted Hayali as saying.