The chief of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq has angered the central government in Baghdad over claims made yesterday that land taken by his Peshmerga forces will remain under Kurdish control.
President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani claimed that there was an agreement between the KRG, the United States and Baghdad that Kurdish forces will not withdraw from regions they had “liberated”.
Speaking from Bashiqa on Wednesday, the Iraqi Kurdish leader said: “We have a deal with America…and with the Iraqi government that the defence lines before the Mosul operation are non-negotiable.”
“We are in agreement with the United States on not withdrawing from the areas of Kurdistan,” Barzani said, while also saying that he would not turn his back on the pre-Daesh Kurdish population of Mosul, which he alleged was more than 300,000.
“Before [Daesh], 300,000 Kurds were living in Mosul. How can we turn our backs on them?” he asked, reiterating that the Peshmerga will “take part in the liberation of Mosul”.
Barzani’s comments ruffled feathers in Baghdad, with Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi saying before the start of the operation that the Peshmerga would only help to take areas around Mosul and would apparently withdraw to their positions before the campaign to reclaim Iraq’s second city from Daesh.
Al-Abadi’s office asked the KRG to clarify Barzani’s recent statements, saying that the agreement Baghdad had with Erbil stipulated that Peshmerga units should withdraw “to the previous places that they held prior to the launch of liberation operations.”
“The agreement includes a specific clause on the withdrawal of the Peshmerga from the liberated areas after the liberation of Mosul.”
Almost 12,000 Peshmerga casualties since 2014
The Kurdish president appeared to insist that areas “liberated” by Kurdish militants should remain under KRG control due to the high price they have paid in the war with Daesh, that erupted in 2014.
“These areas were liberated by the blood of 11,500 martyrs and wounded from the Peshmerga,” Barzani declared, adding that “it is not possible after all these sacrifices to return [territories] to federal control.”
There are many cities and towns that are disputed between the central authorities in Baghdad based in the Green Zone, and Erbil the capital of the KRG.
Kirkuk, formally under the authority of Baghdad, was captured by the Peshmerga in 2014 who filled the vacuum left by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) who were retreating from the Daesh onslaught that led to the capture of several Iraqi cities, including Mosul.
These disputed territories may be a trigger for future conflict once the Daesh crisis in Iraq is resolved.