Kurd peshmerga block Mosul roads fearing Iraqi attack

#KurdishVote

Baghdad has demanded Iraqi Kurds hand over control of border posts and stopped selling dollars

Peshmerga forces outside Mosul during the battle against Islamic State (Reuters)
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Thursday 12 October 2017 9:25 UTC
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Kurdish peshmerga forces on Thursday briefly blocked roads from Iraqi Kurdistan to the country's second city Mosul in response to Iraqi troop movements, a senior Kurdish military official told AFP.

"The two main roads connecting Erbil and Dohuk to Mosul were cut off on Thursday with sand embankments as a precautionary measure after we detected an increase in deployments and movements of Iraqi forces near the front line with the peshmerga," he said.

The AFP reported the roadblocks were lifted soon after, but the actions show growing concerns in Kurdistan's leadership over Baghdad's intentions after the Kurdish vote for independence on 25 September 

An official told the news agency the closures were prompted "by fears of a possible attack by Iraqi forces".

The movements came as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) offered to hold talks with Iraqi authorities on the status of Kurdish airports, border posts and banks, on which they placed restrictions following an independence referendum.

Baghdad took the measures in an attempt to isolate the KRG after last month's referendum.

The government in Baghdad, which declared the vote illegal, imposed a ban on direct international flights to the northern region. It also demanded that the KRG hand over control of its border posts, and stopped selling dollars to four Kurdish-owned banks.

"To avoid this collective punishment, we invite (Iraqi Prime Minister) Haider al-Abadi, again, that we are ready for any form of dialogue and negotiations in conformity with the Iraqi Constitution," the KRG said a statement published overnight.

It offered discussions "regarding the crossings, internal trade, providing services to the citizens, the banks and the airports".

The statement marked a change of tack by Kurdish authorities, which on Wednesday accused Iraqi forces and Iranian-trained Iraqi paramilitaries of "preparing a major attack" on the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and near Mosul in northern Iraq.

An Iraqi military spokesman denied any attack on Kurdish forces was planned, saying government troops were preparing to oust Islamic State group militants from an area near the Syrian border.

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The Kurdish referendum: Dream of independence and fear of dictatorship

Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council issued arrest warrants on Wednesday for the chairman of the Kurdish referendum commission and two aides for "violating a valid (Iraqi) court ruling" banning the independence vote as against the constitution.

Neighbouring Iran and Turkey back Iraq's uncompromising stance, fearing the spread of separatism to their own Kurdish populations.

Kirkuk, a Kurdish-held multi-ethnic region, has emerged as a flashpoint in the crisis between Baghdad and Erbil as it is claimed by both sides.

Iraqi forces and Shia fighting groups, known as Popular Mobilisation, are deployed south and west of Kirkuk, in areas previously under the control of Islamic State.

The area around the border post of al-Qaim, in western Iraq, is the last Iraqi region still under the control of the militants who overran a third of the country in 2014.