Popular Mobilization Forces and Iraqi Federal Police are preparing “major attacks” from several sides against Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) announced on Wednesday.
The council tweeted that security forces planned to attack Kurdish region from the southern and western part of Kirkuk province and north of Mosul.
We're receiving dangerous msgs Iraqi forces, incl PMU & Fed Pol, are preparing major attack in South/West Kirkuk & North Mosul on Kurdistan.
— KR Security Council (@KRSCPress) October 11, 2017
Iraqi military spokesman dismissed the announcement and said the government forces were instead preparing for the offensive on Islamic State’s remaining stronghold in the country, along the border with Syria.
“We are getting ready for the battle in al-Qaim, we’re not concerned by confrontations other than with Islamic State,” he said.
However, Kurdish authorities weren’t convinced by Baghdad’s statements.
“There are some unusual movements…There are no plans for military attacks on the Kurdistan Region, but there are some maneuvers by the Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Forces), their forces have been getting closer to the Peshmerga frontline after Hawija was liberated. We have seen similar situation in Mosul,” Hoshiyar Zebari, a senior Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official told Rudaw TV.
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The KRSC announcement came amid rising tensions between Kurdish government in Erbil and Baghdad, following the September 25 referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, which saw more than 90% of voters opting for independent state. The vote was also held in some of the disputed territories, including the oil-rich multiethnic province of Kirkuk with slim Kurdish majority.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) now fears that this is the area where the first conflicts might arise – large Arab and Turkmen minority already expressed their dissatisfaction with Kurdish administration and independence vote.
As the Iraqi troops are preparing for a final push to oust Islamic State from the country, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned Kurdish Peshmerga against confrontation with Baghdad-controlled forces, including the mainly Shi’ite Hashd al-Sha’abi. He also called on Kurdish soldiers to act on orders from the Iraqi government.
New Punitive Measures
The Kurdish government responded on Wednesday, describing Abadi’s warning as “threats” and saying he was to blame for “any disputes or violence which may erupt in disputed areas.”
Baghdad rejected the Kurdish vote as unconstitutional, repeatedly refusing Erbil’s offers to negotiate about Kurdistan’s future status. On Tuesday, al-Abadi reiterated that canceling the referendum outcome was the prerequisite for any talks between the two sides.
“Any talks with the Kurdistan Region must respect three conditions that are not up for negotiation: the unity of Iraq, the Iraqi constitution, and rejecting the result of the referendum,” he said.
Kurdistan Regional Government responded with a lengthy statement, criticizing Baghdad’s sanctions against the region, including the “international flight ban, border closure, troop deployments and recently the relocation of telecommunication companies to Baghdad”.
“We are telling Mr. Haider al-Abadi…that the issues won’t be resolved by Baghdad’s and neighboring countries’ sanctions or collective punishment,” the statement read. “A governing and political dialogue should start between the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Iraqi government and all [parliament] factions and Iraqi and Kurdistan political parties in order to resolve all the problems.”
However, Baghdad continued with punitive measures on Wednesday, issuing arrest warrants for the members of the Kurdistan Region’s High Electoral and Referendum Commission. They were charged with violating a ruling by Iraq’s High Federal Court, which declared independence referendum unconstitutional.
Iraqi government also announced it would investigate the bank accounts of Kurdish government and officials, paying special attention to the revenues from oil exports.
So far, Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority suspended international flights to Kurdistan, while Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan complied a few days later. The measure reportedly causes $60.000 of losses to the airports on a daily basis.
Syria, Iran, and Turkey oppose independent Kurdistan fearing insurgency among their own separatist Kurdish groups, offering Iraq support in its fight against Kurdish secession.
One of the most dangerous punitive measures remains in Ankara’s hands – as Kurdish oil-pipeline leading to the Turkish port Ceyhan generates a large revenue for the region. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim threatened Erbil with new sanctions on Tuesday, as Iraqi authorities ordered urgent repairs to an old pipeline circumventing the Kurdish region – if successful, the measure would effectively block Kurdistan’s main source of income.