Kurds reach deal to stop fighting with Iraqi forces

But status of any ceasefire unclear; Tillerson urges dialogue to start between both parties

Iraqi forces firing mortars on the Kurdish Peshmerga near the area of Faysh Khabur, on the Turkish and Syrian borders, in the Kurdish autonomous region on Thursday.
Iraqi forces firing mortars on the Kurdish Peshmerga near the area of Faysh Khabur, on the Turkish and Syrian borders, in the Kurdish autonomous region on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BAGHDAD • Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have reached an agreement to stop fighting in northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said, although the status of any ceasefire remained unclear.

A spokesman in Baghdad for the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier said the deal covered all fronts in the conflict, which broke out after the Kurdish authorities held an independence referendum last month in areas of northern Iraq.

But he later told Reuters that the truce had not been officially agreed, while an Iraqi military spokesman declined to comment.

According to the KRG, based in the Kurdish autonomous region's capital of Erbil, the ceasefire entered into effect at 1am yesterday local time.

"The ceasefire is holding," Mr Vahal Ali, director of KRG President Masoud Barzani's media office, told Reuters yesterday. "Diplomatic efforts are under way to set a date for talks to start between Erbil and Baghdad."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, urging for dialogue to start, the Iraqi central government said in a statement.

Iraqi government forces, Iranian-backed militias and Kurdish troops fought alongside each other to defeat ISIS, but the alliance has faltered with the militants largely defeated in the country.

Iraqi government forces and the Teheran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces launched a surprise offensive on Oct 16 in retaliation against the Sept 25 independence referendum organised by the KRG.

The offensive aims to capture disputed territories, claimed by both the KRG and the Iraqi central government, as well as border crossings and oil facilities.

The city of Kirkuk, which lies in an oil-producing area, fell to Iraqi forces without much resistance on Oct 16, but the Peshmerga began to fight back as they withdrew closer to the Kurdish autonomous region.

The most violent clashes happened in the north-western corner where Peshmerga fighters are defending land crossings to Turkey and Syria and an oil hub that controls KRG crude exports, located in the region of Fish-Khabur.

Speaking in Geneva on Thursday, Mr Tillerson said he was "disappointed that the parties have been unable to reach an entirely peaceful resolution" and that he had encouraged Mr Abadi to accept the KRG "overtures for talks on the basis of the Iraqi Constitution".

"Both parties are talking with each other, but it is not an official ceasefire," US Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Baghdad, told Reuters, correcting an earlier statement in which he said a ceasefire had been agreed.

In an interview with Kurdish TV Rudaw, Col Dillon called on the two sides to extend the deal to a complete halt in hostility and "refocus our efforts on defeating ISIS".

"We are encouraging dialogue, we are trying to get the tensions down," he said.

Mr Abadi demanded on Thursday that the Kurds declare their referendum void, rejecting the KRG offer to suspend its independence push to resolve a crisis through talks.

"We won't accept anything but its cancellation and the respect of the Constitution," he said in a statement during a visit to Teheran.

The KRG proposed on Wednesday an immediate ceasefire, a suspension of the referendum result and "starting an open dialogue with the federal government based on the Iraqi Constitution".

The fall of Kirkuk was a major blow to the Kurdish drive for independence championed by Mr Barzani, as it halved the region's oil export revenue.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Kurds reach deal to stop fighting with Iraqi forces'. Print Edition | Subscribe