ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Shia militias have amassed large numbers of troops in the disputed province of Kirkuk according to a Kurdish Peshmerga Commander on Thursday.
The Iraqi army, Hashd al-Shaabi—also known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—federal police, and rapid response team troops “have mobilized in large numbers to areas south and west of Kirkuk,” said Peshmerga Commander Kamal Kirkuki.
While speaking with Kurdistan 24, Kirkuki declared Peshmerga forces, who have been stationed in the area to protect the people of Kurdistan from militant groups, said the Kurdish troops would “respond in kind” to any attack “from any party” on the Kurdistan Region.
“The international anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition’s movement in the region has increased since yesterday,” he added. “The coalition has warned the Iraqi forces, at the highest levels, not to escalate tensions and commit any mistake that could have severe consequences.”
Iraqi forces have been present in the southwestern areas of Kirkuk due to the Hawija operation to retake the town from IS. Other units are stationed in northern and eastern Mosul, particularly in the Nineveh Plain.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) laid the blame on the prospect of armed conflict erupting in the region on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
“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.
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 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 KRG’s administration.
Previously, however, Iraq’s National Security Adviser had dispelled any possibility the Iraqi government would initiate an armed confrontation with the Kurdistan Region over the contested referendum.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany