MARYAM BEIK (Iraq) • Thousands of Iraqi troops were locked in an armed stand-off with Kurdish forces in the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk as Washington scrambled to avert fighting between its allies in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group (ISIS).
The Kurdish leadership rejected yesterday the Iraqi government demand that it cancel the outcome of a Sept 25 independence referendum as a pre-condition for talks to resolve the dispute.
Kurdish leaders who met to discuss the crisis in the town of Dokan renewed their offer to "resolve peacefully" the crisis with Baghdad, Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani's aide, Mr Hemin Hawrami, said.
The meeting was attended by Mr Barzani, Iraqi President Fuad Masum and Ms Hero Talabani, the wife of Mr Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader who died earlier this month.
They rejected what they described as "military threats" from Iraqi forces against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and pledged to defend Kurdish-held territory in case of an attack. The Kurds earlier said that Baghdad had set a deadline for their forces to surrender positions they took during the fightback against ISIS.
The deadline, originally set for 2am yesterday (7am yesterday Singapore time), was extended by 24 hours during a meeting overnight.
The two sides have been at loggerheads since the Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in the referendum last month that Baghdad rejected as illegal. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said there can be no further discussion of the Kurds' longstanding demands to incorporate Kirkuk and other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their autonomous region until the independence vote is annulled.
Everybody stay focused on defeating ISIS. We can't turn on each other right now.
U.S. DEFENCE SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS, on reducing the tension between Iraq and the Kurds.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis said last Friday the country was working to reduce tensions. "Everybody stay focused on defeating ISIS. We can't turn on each other right now," Mr Mattis told reporters.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS