ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Peshmerga forces on Thursday reopened the Nawaran highway connecting Erbil to Mosul after shutting down roads linking the cities of Dohuk and Erbil to the city of Mosul in response to threats.
Kurdistan 24 correspondent Islam Yusuf, reporting north of the recently liberated city of Mosul, said the Kurdish Peshmerga forces early Thursday morning closed roads linking Kurdistan to the northern Iraqi city for six hours due to “serious claims” Iraqi forces were planning an offensive on disputed areas.
On Wednesday evening, the Kurdistan Region’s Security Council announced Iraqi forces, along with Iranian-trained paramilitary groups, had been deployed to the oil-rich, mixed province of Kirkuk and areas near Mosul, and were “preparing for a major attack on Kurdistan.”
In what they had described as a “precautionary measure” against possible hostile forces launching an attack on their defense lines and entering the Region, Peshmerga placed concrete blocks and mounds of earth on the roads connecting Mosul to Dohuk and Erbil.
Regular traffic between the city and the Region resumed only recently as the Islamic State (IS) was defeated in Mosul this summer.
This is the furthest escalation of tensions between Erbil and Baghdad since the Kurdistan Region’s Sep. 25 referendum on independence was held.
In a vote in Parliament following the plebiscite, Iraqi lawmakers authorized Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to use “any means necessary to safeguard the unity” of Iraq, including a mandate to send troops to “restore federal authority” over disputed areas under the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) administration.
Previously, however, Iraq’s National Security Adviser had dispelled any possibility the Iraqi government would initiate an armed confrontation with Kurdistan over the contested referendum.
On Twitter Wednesday evening, former US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad accused Iranian Quds Force Commander Qassim Soleimani of increasing the prospect of conflict.
“Soleimani is in Iraq and pushing [Iraqi forces] to attack Kirkuk,” he wrote.
The Kurdish leadership on Wednesday urged the international community and US-led coalition to put an end to Iraq’s collective punishment and use of force approach, “which benefits no one.”
Officials have also said the Kurdistan’s leadership would add up all sanctions and decisions taken by Baghdad against the Region to present to the international community.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany