Strains emerge between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurds in ISIS fight
Kurdish leader says he won't let those who backed ISIS return to liberated villages
Iraq’s Prime Minister says Kurdish forces must withdraw from towns captured from ISIS once the terror group is defeated as tensions mount between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government over future control of the territory in northern Iraq.
Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, are playing a critical role in the battle to defeat the terror group, fighting alongside Iraqi government troops and other forces in a coalition to retake the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, the capital of Iraq’s Nineveh province.
But cracks are emerging in the anti-ISIS partnership over the question of the semiautonomous Kurdish Regional Government’s plans for areas it captures from the terror group.
Statements from Kurdish President Massoud Barzani and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in recent days have underlined their conflicting positions.
Speaking this week in Bashiqa, a town northeast of Mosul that Peshmerga recently captured from ISIS, Barzani said he would never allow residents who had supported the terror group to return to liberated villages – a sign that Sunni Arabs may not be welcome.
“We have shed a lot of precious blood to liberate areas from (ISIS),” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “Does this mean we will allow those who joined and supported ISIS (in) these villages before the liberation? No way … we will never allow them to return.”
In a statement Thursday, Abadi reiterated that the agreement under which Iraqi federal forces and Peshmerga were cooperating in the liberation of Nineveh province stated that the Kurds must return to their previous positions once the battle was won.
“This agreement includes an explicit clause stating that Peshmerga withdraws to their previous stations soon after the liberation of Nineveh,” the statement said.
Numerous disputed territories in Iraq are nominally under Baghdad’s jurisdiction but controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government and claimed by both parties.
Mosul: Iraqi-led forces push into key city
Report alleges Kurds destroyed Arab homes
The latest comments follow the release of a report this week by Human Rights Watch that accused Iraqi Kurdish forces of unlawfully targeting and destroying Arab homes in regions they have retaken from ISIS fighters.
The report documented 21 attacks carried out by Kurdish fighters on villages with mixed Kurdish and Arab residents between September 2014 and May in disputed parts of Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces. Witnesses told the researchers they found destroyed Arab buildings next to intact Kurdish-owned ones.
Kurdish officials strongly denied any systematic destruction of Arab-owned homes, and Barzani dismissed the report in his comments Wednesday, calling it “unfair.”
“If we hate Arabs, then how do you explain the fact that we have 1.5 million Arabs, beside all other sects in the region who fled war zones,” he said.
Barzani told Human Rights Watch in July that the Kurdish Regional Government would not allow Sunni Arabs to return to villages that were “Arabized” by Saddam Hussein. In his view, those are historically Kurdish lands needed for a potential future independent Kurdistan, which Barzani has long championed.
CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq reported from Irbil, while Tim Hume wrote and reported from London. CNN’s Ingrid Formanek and Yasmin Amer contributed to this report.