ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) - A Kurdish official on Thursday has said Peshmerga forces would not participate in the battle to liberate the city of Hawija in southwestern Kirkuk, from the Islamic State (IS) without reaching an concrete agreement with Iraqi forces.
"The Peshmerga will participate in the liberation of Hawija, only in accordance with a clear agreement struck with the Iraqi forces," Salah Dalo, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party office in Kirkuk told Kurdistan 24.
The presence of any military force operating independently of the Kurdistan Regional Government in the province of Kirkuk is "redundant and unnecessary," he mentioned, stating that the Peshmerga forces have "all the combat capabilities to protect the region."
Iraqi forces were deployed in Kirkuk over the weekend as preparations to liberate the city are underway, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said in an official statement this week.
According to Army First Lieutenant Fayeq Numan al-Salim, most of the forces who were involved in the Tal Afar operation will participate in the liberation of Hawija. This includes the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, made up entirely of Shiite factions, who announced they would take part in the battle to retake the city of Hawija.
Hawija has become the last important IS stronghold in the northern regions of Iraq after Mosul and its neighboring areas were retake in the last two months.
Hawija is 50 km (30 miles) from Kirkuk, and had a population of about 300,000.
Kurdish officials in Kirkuk have been calling on Baghdad to prioritize the liberation of Hawija, citing security threats to civilians in the rest of the province.
President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani has also called for continued cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil in the fight against IS, with Hawija being the biggest threat to the diverse city of Kirkuk.
During his weekly press briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi troops would fully cooperate with Kurdish Peshmerga forces to recapture the Hawija district.
As Kurdistan’s independence referendum approaches, the people of Kirkuk will be anticipating their opportunity to decide whether they want to remain part of Iraq or join the Kurdistan Region.
Although Kurds make up a majority of the population, Kirkuk is a diverse area made up of different ethnic and religious groups including Turkmen, Arabs, and Christians.
The province is one of the disputed territories between the Federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).