Iraq PM warns Kurd security forces to stay put

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s premier has warned Kurdish regional security forces not to  advance towards government troop positions, a military spokesman said on Monday,  after deadly clashes in a flashpoint northern town.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office warned the Kurdish forces, known as  peshmerga, “not to change their positions or approach the (federal) armed  forces,” Iraqi military spokesman Colonel Dhia al-Wakil  said in a message received by  AFP.

The warning was an apparent response to the deployment of thousands of troops  from the autonomousKurdistan  region as reinforcements to disputed  Tuz Khurmatu, though many of them were subsequently withdrawn, a high-ranking  Kurdish officer told AFP.

Clashes in the town on Friday that killed one person and wounded others took  place between peshmerga and Iraqi government forces, Kurdistan president Massud Barzani  said, but an Iraqi general denied  Kurdish forces were involved.

Tensions between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq  have been running high after the  establishment of a new military command covering disputed territory, and over  various other long-running disputes.

Barzani ordered the peshmerga “to exercise restraint in the face of  provocations, but also to be in a highest state of readiness to face any  aggressive acts.”

Kurdish leaders want to the expand their autonomous region across a swathe of  territory that stretches from Iraq’s eastern border with Iran to its western  frontier with Syria, against strong opposition by Maliki’s government.

The unresolved row poses the biggest threat to Iraq’s long-term stability,  diplomats and officials say.

US forces played a coordinating role between Kurdish and Arab forces in the  disputed territory, forming joint patrols and checkpoints comprised of US  soldiers, Iraqi soldiers and troops, and Kurdish peshmerga forces.

But US troops withdrew from Iraq last year, removing a buffer to Arab-Kurd  tensions.