Monday 16 September 2019

Ceasefire between Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces

Kurdish security forces at a checkpoint in Altun Kupri, on the outskirts of Irbil (AP)
Kurdish security forces at a checkpoint in Altun Kupri, on the outskirts of Irbil (AP)

A ceasefire has been reached between Baghdad and Iraq's Kurdish minority, the US-led coalition has said, temporarily halting clashes that followed a controversial vote on Kurdish independence last month.

Colonel Ryan Dillon said the coalition was informed of the ceasefire on Friday morning and coalition officials are encouraging both sides to ensure "it's not just temporary".

Clashes broke out between Baghdad-led forces and Kurdish fighters known as the Peshmerga earlier this month when Iraq's military retook the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The Kurdish referendum on support for independence held in September stoked tensions between Irbil and Baghdad and well as across the region.

The ceasefire comes after more than two weeks of largely low-level clashes and warnings from the coalition that the dispute was distracting from the fight against Islamic State.

Federal forces retook Kirkuk and other areas outside the autonomous Kurdish region that the Kurds had seized from the Islamic State group.

IS conquered those areas after sweeping across the country in 2014. Most of the Kurdish forces withdrew without a fight, but reports of low-level clashes continued and tensions remained.

The Kurdish referendum on support for independence was held in the three provinces that make up the Kurds' autonomous zone, as well as in a string of territories claimed by Baghdad, but at the time controlled by Kurdish forces.

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi demanded the annulment of the vote and the transfer of border control and other infrastructure to federal forces.

Kurdish officials offered this week to "freeze" the results of the vote, but Mr al-Abadi rejected the offer on Thursday.

The coalition said Iraqi and Kurdish troop movements and skirmishes stretched its intelligence and surveillance assets. Drones that previously kept watch over IS were diverted to flashpoints in the disputed areas.

Col Dillon said the infighting had also hindered the movement of military equipment and supplies to forces battling IS in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Iraqi forces are fighting IS in the last pocket of territory the group holds in western Anbar province along the border with Syria.


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