Iraq sees 'progress' in talks on Kurdish peshmerga pullback

AFP , Saturday 28 Oct 2017

Iraqi forces gather at their camp on the front line in the northwestern town of Fishkhabur, near the borders with Syria and Turkey, on October 28, 2017 (Photo: AFP)

Iraqi and Kurdish commanders made "progress" in talks Saturday on Kurdish fighters withdrawing from disputed areas, Iraq's chief of staff said hours before a truce in clashes over a key border post was due to expire.

But General Othman al-Ghanimi told reporters after the talks in central Nineveh province that there are "sticking points" that still need to be resolved.

"We have reached an agreement on some points," he said, adding that the Iraqi side is still waiting to hear from the Kurds on a number of other issues.

"There has been progress but the definitive solution is in the hands of the other (Kurdish) delegation. They must return to Kurdistan for consultation and give us their answer," Ghanimi said.

"We will remain in touch by phone," he added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday night ordered a 24-hour ceasefire in clashes between federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

The two sides had faced off since Thursday as Iraqi forces sought to capture the vital oil export point of Fishkhabur on the border with Turkey.

Both armed and trained by the US in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) militant group, they had exchanged heavy artillery fire in the latest flare-up of a crisis sparked by a Kurdish independence vote on September 25.

Abadi's spokesman earlier Saturday told AFP that a "joint technical committee" comprising Iraqi and Kurdish delegates was meeting to find a solution to the stand-off at the border post.

"The main task of this joint technical committee is to allow the deployment without violence of federal forces along the borders," Saad al-Hadithi said.

"Commanders of the federal forces and of the peshmerga are meeting to allow for this redeployment in a peaceful and humane fashion," he said.

The aim of the talks was to negotiate the return to a 2003 "blue line" restricting autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan to the three northern provinces of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah, said Hadithi.

A Kurdish official said the US-led coalition pushed them towards negotiations.

Since mid-October, Iraqi forces have reclaimed the entire oil-rich province of Kirkuk, stripping the Kurds of a major chunk of their oil revenues and dealing a crippling blow to their hopes of independence.

On Friday, the Iraqi military gave the Kurds an ultimatum to withdraw from the Fishkhabur border area where rival pipelines belonging to the two sides cross into Turkey.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003, and especially in the thick of a lightning advance across northern Iraq by IS in 2014, the Kurds had taken control of the territories disputed with Baghdad.

But Iraqi forces have over the past two weeks recaptured all of the disputed lands, much of it without Kurdish resistance.

Iraq's constitution adopted during the US-led occupation of 2003-2011 provides for plebiscites in the disputed areas on their possibile incorporation in the autonomous Kurdish region.

Baghdad insists, however, that the constitution provides for Iraqi federal control of the country's borders.

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