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Kurdish Parties Unanimous in Opposition to Iraqi Army Deployment
By Hevidar Ahmed

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region -- Kurdish political factions appear united in their opposition to the advance of the Iraqi Army in Nineveh province.

The standoff between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces shows no signs of abating. On Friday, the Iraqi government sent thousands of troops to the Zumar district where they attempted to cross Kurdish lines and control the Rabia border with neighboring Syria.

Najib Abdullah, a senior official from the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had no excuse for deploying troops to the area.

"What Maliki is doing is playing with fire because this political dispute could be resolved through dialogue, but when it gets to a military point, it will be dangerous," he said.

Abdullah linked Maliki's actions to the recent failed attempt to unseat him through a non-confidence motion. He said, "Maliki now sees himself as very strong … we should expect more such actions from Maliki."

Kurdish Peshmerga forces in and around Zumar have not allowed Iraqi soldiers to enter areas under their control and have threatened to respond with force to any attempts to do so. Two Peshmerga battalions have been deployed in the area in addition to a backup artillery unit.

Gen. Izzadin Saado, commander of the 414th infantry battalion of the Kurdish forces, said the Iraqi Army was planning to reach Sihela village near the border with Syria. If they managed to do that, they would be able to control strategic areas such as Zumar, Sinjar and Mira that have been under Kurdish control since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

These areas in Nineveh province are part of the "disputed" territories that both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraqi government lay claim to. They were "Arabized" under Saddam Hussein when a large number of Arab settlers were brought into the areas and Kurdish residents were expelled.

The refusal to allow Iraqi Army units to reach the Rabia border infuriated Maliki who issued a statement accusing Kurds of "violating the constitution." The statement said there would be "no good ending" if Peshmerga forces threatened or prevented the Iraqi Army's movement.

In response, the KRG Ministry of Peshmerga said that their forces abide by the constitution, alleging that Maliki himself was in breach of the charter because he appointed army division commanders unilaterally. Iraq's constitution demands senior military commanders be approved by parliament, but Maliki has circumvented this by appointing many senior-ranking military staff.

Saado said that the Iraqi Army has now dispatched eight helicopter gunships and an artillery unit to the back up the troops that are there.

Ali Musawi, an advisor to Maliki, told Rudaw that Iraqi troops would not withdraw from the area.

"The Iraqi Army has been dispatched to the area by the government because the situation in Syria is not good and the troops want to protect the Iraqi border," said Musawi.

He added that the Iraqi government has the constitutional right to deploy troops to those areas and that "those areas need the Iraqi Army and we are there to meet that need."

The deployment of Iraqi troops came a few days after Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani told Al Jazeera that soldiers defecting from the Syrian army were being trained in the Kurdistan Region and would be sent back to Syria to fill any emerging "security vacuum."

For his part, Musawi says the Iraqi army units had been moved before Barzani's statements and were not a reaction to his remarks.

But Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the Ministry of Peshmerga, said, "Let the Iraqi government protect its 300-kilometer border with Syria where terrorists infiltrate into Iraq and not try to control the 15 kilometers controlled by the Peshmergas."

Latif Sheikh Mustafa, a Gorran MP in Iraqi Parliament, said that since authorities in Baghdad have failed to implement a constitutional provision regarding the fate of disputed territories, Kurds have the right to consider those areas as theirs.

However, Mustafa added that any deployment of forces in those areas should be coordinated by both sides.

Fatih Daraghayi, a lawmaker from the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal), said the recent deployment of Iraqi troops in northwestern Nineveh is proof "that there is an autocratic authority in Iraq."

"The Kurdistan Region and its Peshmerga forces acted legally by blocking the advancement of Iraqi troops," said Daraghayi.

Azad Jundiyani, a senior official of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), expressed concern over the efforts of the Iraqi Army to control the border areas with Syria currently administered by Kurdish forces.

"Because there are Peshmerga forces in those areas, dispatching Iraqi troops is a mistake and a violation of agreements," said Jundiyani.


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