ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The US-led anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition spokesperson on Thursday reaffirmed the coalition’s commitment to defeating the militant group in Iraq and supporting the Peshmerga forces.
“We are here to defeat [IS], we have done so for the last three years in support of the Iraqi security forces, and the Peshmerga have played a vital role in that,” said US Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, Spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), in an interview with Kurdistan 24 in Baghdad.
“Right now, there have been no decisions of any kind of discontinuation of support to the Peshmerga forces,” Dillon added. “The security assistance and training [to the Peshmerga] continues.”
The US Colonel’s statement comes as tensions between the Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia militias are at an all-time high following the Kurdistan Region’s Sep. 25 referendum on independence.
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.”
Peshmerga forces early Thursday morning blocked the main roads connecting the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to the Kurdistan Region for six hours in response to the threats before eventually reopening them.
However, during a meeting with officials in Baghdad later on Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraq would not use its army “against our people or fight a war against our Kurdish citizens.”
He noted it was his government’s duty to “preserve the unity of the country and the implementation of the [Iraqi] Constitution” as well as “to protect our citizens and national resources.”
When asked about the coalition’s position should the Iraqi central government launch an attack on the Kurdistan Region, Dillon dismissed the rumors of an impending assault as “speculative.”
“We are on to Western Anbar to defeat IS in the remaining pockets there,” the spokesperson continued.
The Western alliance has repeatedly stated their main focus remained on the elimination of the extremist group in Iraq and discouraged any “destabilizing” and “counter-productive” moves, as it described last month’s vote and the subsequent international flight ban over Kurdistan.
Nevertheless, following a Parliamentary session held immediately after the poll, Iraqi lawmakers authorized Abadi to use “any means necessary to safeguard the unity” of Iraq.
This included a mandate to send troops to “restore federal authority” over disputed areas under the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) administration.
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,” and laid the blame on the prospect of armed conflict erupting in the region on the Iraqi PM.
“Abadi bears the responsibility for any military tensions in the disputed areas after he threatened Peshmerga forces by demanding they not confront Iraqi forces sent to those areas,” read a statement issued by the Kurdish government.
Officials have also said 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