New deployments of Kurdish forces in the disputed Kirkuk province in north Iraq are a “dangerous development” and an attempt to reach its oil fields, a top Iraqi general said on Saturday.
“They want to reach (Kirkuk’s) oil wells and fields,” Staff General Ali Ghaidan Majeed, the commander of Iraqi ground forces, told AFP, adding that the move breached an agreement whereby Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iraqi soldiers would maintain joint checkpoints.
Kurdish security forces were deployed near the disputed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, a Kurdish official said on Saturday, a move allegedly aimed at combating militants in the area.
In the past week, a wave of violence has killed more than 200 people country-wide, including dozens in Kirkuk province.
“After consultations with the governor of Kirkuk, there has been a decision for peshmerga (security) forces to fill the vacuums in general, and especially around the city of Kirkuk,” Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of Iraqi Kurdistan’s peshmerga ministry, said in a statement.
“The intelligence service of the peshmerga has information that terrorist groups have plans to launch terrorist attacks in these regions,” Yawar said. “Our only goal is to preserve the life of citizens.”
But the Iraqi army ascribed different motives to the deployment.
“After the latest movements of the peshmerga forces, the army is on alert,” a high-ranking army officer told AFP. “The army sees the move of the peshmerga as a (political) maneuver and not to fill any vacuum.”
Kirkuk province and its eponymous capital, home to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, fall within the territory the autonomous Kurdistan region wants to incorporate over strong objections from the federal government in Baghdad.
Diplomats and officials say the territorial dispute between Baghdad and Kurdistan — a three-province region with its own government, security forces, borders and flag but which still receives a portion of the federal budget — is a major threat to Iraq’s long-term stability.
In addition to territory, the two sides are at odds over other issues including oil deals Kurdistan has made without Baghdad’s approval, and power-sharing.
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