US State Department calls on Baghdad to coordinate with KRG

Noting reports of “violent clashes around the town of Altun Kupri (Pirde),” the US State Department on Friday called for “all parties to cease all violence and provocative movements.”

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Noting reports of “violent clashes around the town of Altun Kupri (Pirde),” the US State Department on Friday called for “all parties to cease all violence and provocative movements.”

A statement, issued by Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, said, “In order to avoid any misunderstandings or further clashes, we urge the central government to calm the situation by limiting federal forces’ movements in disputed areas to only those coordinated with the [KRG].”

Fighting began Friday morning around Pirde, precipitating the statement from the State Department.

At 8:00 a.m., “Iraqi Army and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—armed with American weapons, launched an unprovoked, multi-pronged attack on Peshmerga forces,” a statement from the Office of the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) explained.

“Their objective was to enter Qushtapa,” some 26 kilometers south of Erbil, the KRSC said. Qushtapa lies within the Erbil Governorate, on the Erbil-Kirkuk highway.

Friday’s statement from the State Department marked a slight shift from its earlier position, in which it had maintained a strict neutrality between the Iraqi Army and Iranian-backed Shia militias, on the one hand, and the Peshmerga, on the other.

That was so, although it was the Iraqis who attacked in a move widely reported to be coordinated by Qassim Sulaimani, head of the al-Quds Force, a unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the Donald Trump administration last week formally designated a terrorist organization.

“The reassertion of federal authority over disputed areas in no way changes their status,” Nauert noted. “They remain disputed until their status is resolved in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution.”

That sounds like the US intends, at some point, to get Baghdad to undertake the long-delayed implementation of Article 140, which called for a referendum in the Disputed Territories. That vote was supposed to be held in 2007.

“Until parties reach a resolution,” Nauert continued, “we urge them to fully coordinate security and administration of these areas.”

“All parties should engage in dialogue now on the basis of the Iraqi Constitution, as Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi] offered and the [KRG] accepted publicly.”

The KRG has welcomed Nauert’s statement; however, no official word has appeared about Iraq’s response. This will be an important test of the question of who holds more sway in Baghdad now: Washington or Tehran.

“The United States remains committed to a united, stable, democratic, and federal Iraq,” Nauert’s statement read, in a long-familiar reiteration of the US position, and “committed to the [KRG] as an integral component of the country.”

The last clause is new language, but its meaning is difficult to understand.

“We will continue working with officials from the central and regional governments to reduce tensions, avoid further clashes, and encourage dialogue,” Nauert affirmed.

“We also remain determined to finish the fight against [IS] in Iraq and call on the Iraqi Government to redouble its efforts with the Global Coalition until that task is done.”

In recent days, a series of Congressmen have issued statements increasingly critical of the Trump administration for its neutrality, as the Iraqi Army and Iranian-backed Shia militias attacked Kirkuk.

A prominent criticism was the complaint that the administration was ignoring Iran’s role in the assault—despite the tough, new policy against Tehran that it had announced last week.

On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz went so far as to warn, “Should the Government of Iraq continue down this path and effectively act as a puppet of Iran, it would require a reevaluation of US support to the country.”


Editing by Karzan Sulaivany