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Iraq to pay Kurdish Peshmerga and civil servants, says PM Abadi

Move to pay Kurdish public servants could help diffuse tensions between Kurds and the central government in Baghdad
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters sit on a military vehicle north of Kirkuk (Reuters)

The Iraqi government plans to soon start paying the salaries of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and civil servants working for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday.

The semi-autonomous KRG has been struggling to pay the Peshmerga and its employees since 2014, after Baghdad stopped payments to it because of a dispute about oil-sharing revenue.

"We will soon be able to pay all the salaries of the Peshmerga and the employees of the region," Abadi told reporters

The cost of a three-year war on Islamic State added to the Kurdistan region's financial difficulties, and Iraqi troops captured the oil region of Kirkuk from the Peshmerga two weeks ago, halving the KRG's oil income.

Paying Kurdish salaries would help defuse tensions in the northern Iraqi region, where a referendum vote in favour of Kurdish independence in September triggered economic and military retaliation from the Iraqi government.

Iraqi troops deployed on Tuesday at one of the main land crossings with Turkey, gaining a foothold at the Kurdish-held frontier for the first time in decades and imposing one of Baghdad's central demands on the Kurds.

Iraq's entire land border with Turkey is located inside the Kurdish autonomous region, and has been controlled by the Kurds since before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

But since the referendum, the central government has demanded a presence at all border crossing points.

The Iraqis set up positions between the Turkish and the Iraqi Kurdish checkpoints at the Habur border crossing between the Turkish town of Silopi and the Iraqi town of Zakho, a security source in Baghdad said.

Vehicles crossing the border would now be subject to three checks - by Turks, Iraqi forces and the Kurds.

"Habur border gate has been handed over to the central (Iraqi) government as of this morning," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told members of his ruling AKP in parliament in Ankara.

Officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said they had not relinquished control of the crossing. Discussions were ongoing to allow Iraqi "oversight" at the border, Hoshyar Zebari, a former Iraqi foreign minister now working as an adviser to the KRG, told Reuters.

An Iraqi official showed Reuters pictures of the Iraqi flag being raised at the border gate, where Iraqi and Turkish soldiers were deployed and Turkish flags also hoisted.

Control of the border region is of crucial importance for the landlocked Kurdish region. An oil pipeline runs from northern Iraq into Turkey, carrying crude exports which are the principal source of funds for the Kurds.

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