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Iraqi Kurds say open to talks after Baghdad military operation

Abadi says no talks with Kurdish leaders until vote results nullified

By AFP - Oct 19,2017 - Last updated at Oct 19,2017

Iraqi troops demolish a billboard, depicting Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani’s portrait after Iraqi soldiers retook the control of the city centre from Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Monday (Anadolu Agency photo)

ARBIL, Iraq — The Iraqi Kurdish regional government said Thursday it was open to talks with Baghdad after central government forces seized a swathe of disputed territory from Kurdish fighters.

"The Cabinet welcomes the initiative of Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi on starting negotiations with the regional government to solve pending issues according to the constitution and principles of partnership," it said in a statement.

"Kurdistan demands the help and contribution of the international community in sponsoring this dialogue," it added.

The statement was issued after a meeting attended by Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani.

On Monday and Tuesday, federal troops and allied militias ousted Kurdish forces from the northern province of Kirkuk and its lucrative oilfields, as well as formerly Kurdish-held areas of Nineveh and Diyala provinces.

The advance stunned Iraqi Kurds, who barely three weeks ago overwhelmingly voted for independence in a controversial September 25 referendum that Baghdad branded illegal.

On Tuesday, Abadi said the poll was now “a thing of the past” and its results void, calling for dialogue with the Kurdish autonomous region.

Ahead of the operation to retake the disputed areas, Abadi had said he would not hold talks with Kurdish leaders until the results of the independence vote were nullified.

 

Arrest warrant 

 

With the retreat of Kurdish forces this week, almost without a fight, Baghdad has restored its control to swathes of territory held by the Kurds since 2013.

Kurdish forces are now largely confined to their three-province autonomous region in the north.

They have lost nearly all of the territory they had taken since the US-led invasion of 2003, some of it during the fightback against the Daesh extremist group in 2014.

The autonomous region’s Vice President Kosrat Rasul called the setback “a new Anfal for Kurdistan”, a reference to the widespread deaths and destruction wrought by operations in 1987-1988 by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

On Thursday, a Baghdad court issued an arrest warrant for Rasul on charges of “provocation” against Iraq’s armed forces, the judiciary said.

The region’s vice president had referred to the Iraqi army and federal police as “occupation forces” in a statement on Wednesday, the court said.

The judiciary in the Iraqi capital last week also ordered the arrest of three senior Kurdish officials responsible for organising the independence referendum.

The arrest warrants are likely to prove toothless as Baghdad’s security forces do not operate inside Iraqi Kurdistan, but they could stop the officials leaving the northern region.

 

Lost oil fields 

 

This week’s military operation also dealt a severe blow to the autonomous region’s finances, which had relied heavily on revenues from exports of Kirkuk oil.

Baghdad has retaken five oil fields from Kurdish forces in Kirkuk, leaving the Kurds in control of only one in the province.

The lost fields accounted for more than 400,000 of the 650,000 barrels per day that the autonomous Kurdish region used to export in defiance of Baghdad.

On Thursday, the Iraqi oil ministry reacted angrily after Russian energy giant Rosneft signed a production sharing deal with the authorities in the autonomous Kurdish region without its approval.

“This department and the Iraqi federal government are the only two bodies with whom agreements should be reached for the development and investments in the energy sector,” the ministry said in a statement, without mentioning Rosneft by name.

Oil Minister Jabbar Al Luaybi condemned the “irresponsible announcements coming from certain officials in Iraq or abroad, or from foreign companies about their intention to conclude deals with parties in Iraq without the federal government being aware”.

 

Rosneft announced on Wednesday it had signed production sharing agreements for five oil blocks in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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