Kurdish Peshmerga fighters stand on the rooftop of a building on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk, October 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The Iraqi government has accused authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of bringing militants from Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to the disputed oil province of Kirkuk, saying it considered the move as a “declaration of war.”
’s National Security Council, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said in a statement on Sunday that the presence of “fighters not belonging to the regular security forces in Kirkuk” was a “dangerous escalation.”
“It is impossible to remain silent” when faced with “a declaration of war towards Iraqis and government forces,” the statement said, adding, “The central government and regular forces will carry out their duty of defending the Iraqi people in all its components including the Kurds, and of defending Iraq’s sovereignty and unity.”
The Iraqi government has said that it will seek to impose its authority over Kirkuk and other disputed areas.
The statement came just hours before the expiry of a deadline for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to withdraw from strategic areas in Kirkuk.
Iraqi soldiers stand next to vehicles mounted with rocket launchers heading to Kurdish Peshmerga positions on October 15, 2017, on the southern outskirts of Kirkuk. (Photo by AFP)
Kurdish fighters have already rejected a call from the Iraqi government forces to withdraw from a strategic location in Kirkuk’s southern region. Earlier on Sunday, a Kurdish security official announced that Peshmerga fighters had not withdrawn from a key junction south of Kirkuk.
Peshmerga forces moved into Kirkuk in 2014, when Daesh Takfiri terrorist group launched an offensive across Iraq.
Iraqi Kurds deny presence of PKK militants
Later on Sunday, Kurdish Iraqi officials denied that any PKK militants were present in Kirkuk.
“There are no PKK forces in Kirkuk, but there are some volunteers who sympathize with the PKK,” said General Jabar Yawer, the secretary general of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga Ministry.
Tensions have been simmering between the central government in Baghdad and the KRG over a recent controversial referendum on the secession of the region.
The plebiscite took place on September 25, drawing strong objection from Baghdad. Iraq’s neighbors and the international community also voiced concern about the repercussions of the vote, which was only supported by Israel.
On Sunday, Kurdish leaders dismissed the Iraqi government’s demand that the KRG annul the results of last month’s independence referendum.