Iraq, Kurds negotiate peshmerga pullback

Baghdad: Iraqi and Kurdish commanders held talks Saturday on a withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from disputed areas after a truce was declared in clashes over a key border post, the premier’s office said.

“The main task of this joint technical committee is to allow the deployment without violence of federal forces along the borders,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s spokesman, Saad al-Hadithi, told AFP.

“Commanders of the federal forces and of the (Kurdish) peshmerga (fighters) are meeting to allow for this redeployment in a peaceful and humane fashion,” he said.

On Friday night, Abadi ordered the 24-hour ceasefire as his troops and the peshmerga faced off on the second day of an Iraqi drive to capture the vital oil export point of Fishkhabur on the Turkish frontier.

The two sides — both armed and trained by the US — had exchanged heavy artillery fire in the latest flare-up of a crisis sparked by a Kurdish independence vote on September 25.

Hadithi said the aim of Saturday’s talks was to negotiate the return to a 2003 “blue line” restricting autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan to the three northern provinces of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah.

According to a Kurdish official, the US-led coalition that has backed both the Kurds and Iraqi forces in fighting the Islamic State jihadist group pushed them towards negotiations.

Since mid-October, Iraqi forces have reclaimed the entire oil-rich province of Kirkuk, stripping the Kurds of a major chunk of their oil revenues and dealing a crippling blow to their hopes of independence.

On Friday, the Iraqi military gave the Kurds an ultimatum to withdraw from the Fishkhabur border area where rival pipelines belonging to the two sides cross into Turkey.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003 and especially in the thick of a lightning advance across northern Iraq by IS in 2014, the Kurds had taken control of the territories disputed with Baghdad.

But Iraqi forces have over the past two weeks recaptured all of the disputed lands, much of its without Kurdish resistance.

Iraqi’s constitution adopted during the US-led occupation of 2003-2011 provides for plebiscites in the disputed areas on their possibile incorporation in the autonomous Kurdish region.

Baghdad insists, however, the constitution provides for Iraqi federal control of the country’s borders.