Iraqi Kurdish forces closed the two main roads connecting Arbil and Dohuk with the northern city of Mosul for several hours, a Kurdish military official said
Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday denied an attack on the Kurds was imminent, in a bid to defuse tensions that had prompted Kurdish peshmerga fighters to temporarily seal off road links with the rest of the country.
“We are not going to use our army to fight our people or to make war on our Kurdish citizens or others,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.
“Our duty is to preserve the unity of our country, to implement the constitution, and to protect citizens and national forces,” he told a meeting of tribal leaders in the western province of Anbar, where Iraqi security forces are battling to seize the Islamic State (IS) group’s last bastion in the country.
The rise in tensions came two weeks after Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum that the central government condemned as illegal.
Iraqi Kurdish forces closed the two main roads connecting Arbil and Dohuk with the northern city of Mosul for several hours, a Kurdish military official said.
Kurdish authorities said late Wednesday they feared Iraqi government forces and allied paramilitary units were gearing up to launch an assault on the autonomous region.
‘Fighting a single enemy’
Security sources said Thursday that Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service and Rapid Response Force had deployed more forces near peshmerga positions around Rashad, a village some 65km southwest of Kirkuk city.
The oil-rich province of the same name, areas of which took part in the referendum, is disputed between the Kurds and Baghdad.
For its part, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which groups all pro-government forces, played down the tensions, expressing confidence that dialogue would resolve the problem.
“Our mission is clear: we are fighting a single enemy, Daesh,” Brigadier General Yahiya Rassul said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Asked if there had been movements of Iraqi forces close to peshmerga positions, Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition battling IS in Syria and Iraq, said: “We don’t see that.”
The coalition has worked with both peshmerga and Iraqi pro-government forces in the battle to oust IS from areas of Iraq it seized in mid-2014.
“Our mission is clear, to defeat Daesh,” Dillon said.