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Peshmerga to 'fill in' for Iraqi army in disputed areas

The secretary-general of the Ministry of Peshmerga, Jabbar Yawar, said in an interview with Al-Monitor that the peshmerga forces are merely taking defensive positions against armed groups and have not seized the Iraqi army’s weapons.

Kurdistan’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs said its troops are not attacking armed groups in Iraq, but are just taking defensive positions. It said the speeches of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki do not scare the Kurds, and that the peshmerga forces did not seize weapons of the Iraqi army that was fleeing the battlefields.

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Peshmerga Ministry Secretary-General Jabbar Yawar said, “The peshmerga forces are not attacking terrorist groups, and are contenting themselves with taking defensive positions against them, as the distance between us and areas where terrorist groups are present is 1,000 kilometers [620 miles] in length and more than 500-600 kilometers [310-373 miles] in width. Thus, it is difficult to attack them within an area of hundreds of square kilometers.”

In a speech aired on Iraqi media channel Al-Babiliyah on July 2, Maliki rejected the de facto policy that emerged following the Mosul events, and demanded that the Kurds remain committed to the Iraqi Constitution. He threatened to restore areas that the peshmerga forces have controlled during the fall of the Sunni provinces to the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS.

For his part, while attending a parliament session, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani said on July 3 that the peshmerga forces were present in the disputed areas before the events of Mosul, and there were areas where the peshmerga and the Iraqi army were present. Yet there are other areas that the peshmerga forces have entered to fill the security vacuum caused by the withdrawal of the Iraqi army that was present there. He noted that the peshmerga forces will not withdraw from these areas.

In response to Maliki, Yawar said, “We do not feel any threat coming from Maliki’s speech, and we hope that he will control the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Maliki is placed in a position where he cannot threaten any party, neither the Kurdistan region nor any neighboring country, and he does not have the ability to implement the threat. He would better think about controlling the situation in Mosul, Ramadi and Salahuddin as I think that he does not have an army to pose a threat to anyone.”

Iraqi MP Hanan al-Fatlawi, a member of the State of Law Coalition, demanded that the peshmerga forces hand over the weapons they had seized.

Yawar replied, “We did not seize any of the Iraqi army’s weapons. The Iraqi army left them for the terrorists after it fled and abandoned its positions. Thus, terrorists have seized them. In fact, there are no large camps for the Iraqi army next to us to take over their military equipment.”

Regarding the military equipment owned by the peshmerga forces, Yawar said, “We have the same weapons as the Iraqi army; we have light, medium and heavy weapons, with the exception of the air force equipment.” He said, “We do not have any air support as the region does not have an air force,” adding, “Since the formation of the government in Iraq in 2004, we have not received any amounts that the peshmerga forces are entitled to from the federal government, and we did not receive any salaries, arming or training equipment, or any other equipment. There is no support not only for the peshmerga forces, but also for all the security forces in the region, compared with the equipment received by the Iraqi military forces.”

The State of Law Coalition led by Maliki had accused the Kurdish forces of controlling the disputed territories following the Mosul crisis. State of Law Coalition MP Mohammed al-Sayhoud said in an interview with the Iraq News Network, “Kurdish peshmerga seized control over the disputed territories.”

Yawar pointed to the territories where the peshmerga forces were stationed, saying, “They are stationed in these territories since 2010 along with the Iraqi forces, and that they did not cross them.” According to an agreement with the Baghdad government in 2010, the boundaries of these territories were agreed upon, with a joint security line between peshmerga forces and the federal government forces. They constitute territories which the federal government calls the disputed territories.

The aforementioned boundary line starts from Faysh Khabur and Sinjar and passes through Zammar, Sheikhan, Bertla, Bashiqa and al-Hamdaniya in Mosul. It then passes through Quweir, Makhmur and Dabike in Erbil. It also crosses Dibs in Kirkuk and in the west of Kirkuk, and Taza and Tuz in Salahuddin. The line then goes through Jabara and Qura Taba in Diyala province, and finally heads toward Jalawla, Saadiye and Naft Khana. “It is worth mentioning that there were series of joint checkpoints, joint operations and coordination centers between the peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army officers,” Yawar said.

“After the events of June 10, the Iraqi army left its positions within the joint lines as well as in Mosul, Salahuddin and other areas,” Yawar said. “Therefore, we were forced to fill in for the Iraqi army with the same peshmerga forces existing within this region. We did not march or move forward for expansion purposes, we only strengthened the military sites left by the federal government forces.”

Regarding the call made by Barzani to peshmerga veterans to join the fighting fronts, Yawar said, “There is a regulation governing the enlistment of peshmerga veterans to specific stations.” The latter added, “We will recruit them when we need them; they are a reserve force that will support troops on the front line.”

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