The Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have reached an agreement to fill the security vacuum in areas located around Kirkuk and other disputed territories.
The agreement followed months of intensive talks between high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Defense and the Kurdistan regional government (KRG)’s ministry of Peshmerga which focused on ways to undertake the security dossier and enhance coordination in Kirkuk and other disputed territories, to curb the activities of Islamic State (IS) fighters and the sleeper cells of the group.
In his weekly press conference on July 8, Iraqi PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi revealed at that federal and Peshmerga forces have forged an agreement to fill the gap in those areas.
"We surveyed areas located between Iraqi-Iranian border to the Iraqi-Syrian border which stretches over a distance of 500 km. We reached the conclusion that there are security vacuums between Kurdish Peshmarga and Iraqi federal forces’ lines ranging from 12 km to 40 km in some areas," the PM said.
"Both sides agreed that these abandoned areas should be filled up either by Kurdish Peshmarga or Iraqi federal forces," he added. Abdul-Mahdi stressed the continuation of the negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil to resolve pending issues, including the issue of Kirkuk.
Earlier, the KRG ministry of Peshmerga and the Iraqi ministry of defense formed joint committees in order to conduct joint field surveys to assess the security situation and curb IS activities in Kirkuk and other disputed areas.
Meanwhile, Nuri Hama Ali, a commander of the Peshmarga forces from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) speaking to his party’s official media said, "the Peshmerga forces will return to their former positions in the areas outside the control of the KRG administration, and eventually return to their previous headquarters in Kirkuk."
Hama Ali’s comment came after the commander of joint operations command in Kirkuk, Major General Sa’ad Atiyya on July 7 visited the headquarters of the Peshmerga forces stationed near Prde (Altun Kopri).
The Joint Operations Command was formed in Kirkuk in early 2019 to supervise all the armed forces in the province, including the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), apart from the Peshmarga forces.
Nuri Hama Ali said that the meeting with the Iraqi commander was the first after the October 16, 2017 events. Kurdish Peshmerga forces were deployed to most of the disputed territories following the IS attacks in mid-2014; however they were forces to pull out after Iraqi federal forces retook control of the disputed territories as a repercussion of a referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region.
On July 9, the Arab bloc in the Kirkuk Provincial Council in a statement called on the PM to ignore those “who want Kirkuk to returned to the era of chaos and bloodshed ". They also emphasized their opposition to the return of the forces which they described as “illegitimate” and “failed to restore security and protect the different components of the province."
The issue of the return of the Peshmerga forces to the disputed territories has been a subject of controversy. The Iraqi Turkmen Front last month expressed rejection to the return of the Peshmerga forces to Kirkuk, and is against any changes in the security dossier of the province.
Ali Mahdi, spokesman for the Turkmen Front and member of Kirkuk provincial council has demanded that security responsibilities across the province should remain in the hands of the federal government and the joint operations command.
Iraqi federal forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga carried out several joint military operations in the disputed territories over the past year to confront the threat of IS.
Jabar Yawar, secretary general of the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga has repeatedly denied that an agreement has been reached regarding the return of the Peshmerga forces to Kirkuk and other disputed areas, saying that they only formed five joint committees to coordinate their efforts against IS threats.
Despite that the Iraqi government declared final victory against IS in December 2017, the group continue to carry out sporadic attacks, particularly in the disputed territories.