Kurdistan is calling on the international community to help de-escalate the situation in Kirkuk as the region is hovering on the brink of war, Kurdistan Regional Government 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,” Rahman said.
Kurdish authorities have seen “a very significant buildup” of Iraqi military and Shia militias to the south and west of Kirkuk, according to the representative. They have arrived in the area with tanks, heavy artillery, Humvees and mortars.
“They are pointing that at Peshmerga positions,” Rahman noted. “There is no reason for this deployment…This movement is unusual and very provocative.”
Earlier in the day, Baghdad denied it has sent troops to take over Kirkuk, which is largely under control of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Peshmerga fighters.
Rahman said the Peshmerga presence in Kirkuk is significant, “several thousand.”
“The Peshmerga were in Kirkuk anyway,” she explained. “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.”
At present, Kurdish forces in the area 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,” Rahman underscored.
The representative said that apart from the government troops, an Iranian delegation arrived in Kurdistan trying to put pressure on one of the political parties.
Local media reported earlier in the day that Iraqi President Fuad Masum delivered a message for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Hashd al-Shaabi, the Shia militia. The message demanded that the PUK would hand over Kirkuk airport, K-1 military base, and all oil fields.
Additional demands included handing over all ISIS militants held by the Peshmerga, allowing the Iraqi army to return to the positions where they were stationed before ISIS, and removal of Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim from his position.
Sunday, 2:00 am, has been set as the deadline to fulfill the demands.
Rahman said internal discussions have already begun on how to respond.
“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 noted that the tensions between Iran and the U.S. are perhaps feeding into the situation.
“But I would say that there are also a lot of local and regional issues at play, and I would put them at the forefront,” she said.
Amid increasing tensions, Kurdistan 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,” Rahman said, noting that Erbil had 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 added.
At the moment, the Iraqi troops and the personnel are where they were.
“I haven’t heard of any withdrawal. So far there hasn’t actually been any fighting and I hope that there won’t be,” Rahman said. “This is an attempt to bully, to threaten and to try and force Kurdistan into submission. It is a David versus Goliath situation.”