The international community should help de-escalate tensions between Baghdad and Erbil over Kirkuk as the region is hovering on the brink of war, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representative in the U.S. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman told reporters on Friday.
“We are calling on the entire international community, all of our friends, all of these countries that have supported the Peshmerga…We need you now to intervene to prevent a war,” Ms. Rahman said.
In the past 48 hours, Kurdish authorities have detected a significant buildup of the Iraqi military and Shia militias to the south and west of Kirkuk. The forces have arrived in the area with tanks, heavy artillery, Humvees and mortars, according to Ms. Rahman.
However, Baghdad denied on Friday that troops were sent to take over Kirkuk, which is largely under KRG and Peshmerga control.
The representative said the Peshmerga presence in Kirkuk is significant, “in the thousands.” She explained that the forces were in Kirkuk anyway.
“We liberated Kirkuk from ISIS in 2014. We have protected Kirkuk. The Hawija liberation took place very close to Kirkuk…Certainly, in the past 48 hours, more reinforcements have been sent there,” Ms. Rahman said, noting, however, that the Kurdish forces are in a defensive posture.
“We are not looking to be aggressive in any way. However, we are ready to defend, and we are ready to protect,” she added.
Earlier on Friday, local media reported that Iraqi President Fuad Masum delivered a message for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan that contained a list of demands from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Shia militias. The demands include handing over to the government control of the Kirkuk airport, K-1 military base, and oil fields.
In addition, Baghdad has demanded that PUK hands over all ISIS militants held by the Peshmerga, allows the Iraqi army to return to their pre-ISIS positions, and removes Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim from his post. The lists of demands is expected to be fulfilled by 2:00 a.m. on Sunday.
Ms. Rahman said Kurdish authorities are having internal discussions on how to respond to the demands.
“What will happen between now and Sunday, I guess internally there will be a lot of dialogue. I hope that the United States will be putting pressure on all sides to engage in dialogue and I hope that wisdom will prevail,” she added.
The representative said Erbil is calling on Prime Minister Abadi and Shia militias to de-escalate.
“No violence, a de-escalation, and dialogue. This is what we are calling for,” Ms. Rahman underscored, adding that Kurdistan has asked Washington to do more to help overcome the tensions.
“I am told by the State Department and the NSC [National Security Council] that the situation is being monitored very closely at a very high level in the united states, that they are aware of it,” she said.
At the moment, the Iraqi troops and the personnel are still in near Kirkuk.
“I haven’t heard of any withdrawal. So far there hasn’t actually been any fighting and I hope that there won’t be,” the representative said. “This is an attempt to bully, to threaten and to try and force Kurdistan into submission. It is a David versus Goliath situation.”