Peshmerga’s return to disputed territories condition to form Iraqi government: Kurdish official
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The return of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to territories disputed by Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is a strong condition of Kurdish parties in ongoing post-election deal-making, a Kurdish official said on Tuesday.
“One of the conditions of the Kurdish delegation to Baghdad for participating in the formation of the new Iraqi government is to return Peshmerga to the Kurdistani areas [disputed territories] like it was before Oct. 16 of last year,” Jabar Yawar, Secretary-General of the Peshmerga Ministry, told Kurdistan 24.
Peshmerga troops were forced to withdraw from their posts in the disputed territories, including Kirkuk province, when Iraqi forces and Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias advanced with tanks and other heavy military equipment to regain control of the areas. This came as Baghdad’s response to the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum held the previous month, which showed sweeping support for future secession from Iraq.
“Before everything else, the situation in the Kurdistani areas should be stabilized as it was before Oct. 16, when Peshmerga and Iraqi forces jointly protected those areas.”
Recently, the head of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi Parliament, Hakim al-Zamili, was critical in interviews to local Iraqi media about demands of Kurdish parties regarding the formation of the next Iraqi government.
He characterized as "unacceptable" that Kurdish parties were asking for the return of Peshmerga to disputed territories and the restoration of the Kurdistan Region’s national budget share from 12 percent to the previous level of 17 percent.
Following the surprising results of May 12 parliamentary elections, in which influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's coalition become the winner with 54 seats, negotiations have been taking place between Iraqi and Kurdish parties over the formation of a new cabinet. Zamili is a leading member of Sadr's al-Ahrar bloc in parliament.
Kurdish parties together hold 58 seats in the Iraqi Council of Representatives out of total 329. Kurdish leaders and political analysts have stressed the need for unity among the often fractious Kurdish parties if they are to add more weight to their voice in Baghdad.
Regarding current support of Kurdish forces by the US-led coalition formed to fight the Islamic State (IS), Yawar told Kurdistan 24 that it continued to be strong.
“There have been no changes in the representation of the coalition in Kurdistan. We meet with them once, every two weeks,” he said.
“The 2018 program for training Peshmerga forces is already set, and now we are busy preparing the program for 2019," Yawar continued. "The coalition’s support to the Peshmerga is ongoing.”
Peshmerga fighters have been recognized as one of the most effective ground troops in the effort to militarily defeat IS in Iraq. About 2,000 of them perished while fighting the jihadist group since 2014, according to the Peshmerga Ministry, with some 12,000 more wounded.
The security situation has considerably deteriorated in Kirkuk province and other disputed territories in the months since Peshmerga were pushed from them.
Editing by John J. Catherine