KRG Will Not Give In To Baghdad’s Security Demands In Disputed Territories, Official Says

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region will not give in to demands by Baghdad to withdraw its Peshmerga troops from all disputed territories, an official said.

Halgurd Hikmat, media officer at the Peshmerga ministry, said that Baghdad also had demanded the disbanding of the 450-man Golden Lions security force, a joint unit of Iraqi soldiers and Peshmerga fighters that was built by the US military.

“We will not accept these requests, especially the one that asks for the withdrawal of the Peshmerga forces from all of the disputed areas,” Hikmat said.

Iraq’s Arab-dominated central government has been locked in a weeks-old stand-off with the Kurdistan Regional Government, since Baghdad ordered its Dijla forces into disputed areas that are claimed by both sides, and the KRG deployed thousands of its own Peshmerga fighters into the territories.

Hikmat said Baghdad’s demands came in a meeting with a KRG delegation that traveled to Baghdad last week for failed talks to defuse the tensions.

“In our negotiations with the Iraqi delegation, they also asked for the annulment of the joint Peshmerga and Iraqi army forces, known as Golden Lion,” said Hikmat, who was part of the KRG negotiating team.

He said that an official from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s office had told the delegation that, “The Golden Lion force does not have a military structure, therefore it must be annulled.”

But Khalid Assadi, an Iraqi MP from Maliki’s coalition, said that Baghdad opposed the security force because, “The whole unit is run by the Kurds. The area they operate in is a disputed area and this force cannot be in the hands of one particular ethnic group.”

Hikmat said that defense ministry officials in Baghdad also had demanded that security and police in Kirkuk and Dyala be placed under the command of Maliki’s Dijla forces.

At a news conference last week Maliki, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, called for the formation of a force made from different ethnic groups in the disputed areas.

“Which force is Maliki talking about? We have the Golden Lion forces, which are composed of all the ethnic groups in Kirkuk. Why do we need to abolish this force and form another?” Hikmat said.

Established especially for the disputed territories, the Golden Lion force was deliberately composed as a joint unit of Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish fighters by American forces, which left Iraq at the end of last year, ending an occupation that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Hikmat said that a possible alternative to dissolving the force was, “the formation of a joint administration in the area which would be composed of all the ethnic groups. The administration would be backed by a joint military unit, which would report to the Iraqi central government.”

The disputed territories, claimed both by Iraq’s central government and the Kurds, include regions believed to be vastly rich in energy reserves. Kirkuk, which is at the center of the dispute, sits atop a vast ocean of oil that by some estimates totals 4 percent of the world’s oil reserves.