Already a cauldron boiling with tension, the Middle East witnesses the emergence of another hotspot as Baghdad faces off against Arbil
With a senior Kurdish peshmarga leader from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) warning of retaliation after Baghdad deployed tanks and armored vehicles to a disputed city and formed a military command for areas bordering the Kurdish region, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with the KRG leader, Masoud Barzani, on Nov. 19.
Issuing a statement on the controversial Tigris Operation Command, Talabani said: “Bringing up the command issue at this sensitive time will not serve peace and security. On the contrary, it will cause chaos, fear and insecurity.”
Talabani’s visit to the Kurdish region came as clashes erupted Nov. 16 in the town of Tuz Khormato – an area claimed by Iraqi Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds – killing a civilian. On the night of Nov. 19, clashes between security forces of the central government and the KRG forces in Tigrit left 12 Iraqi soldiers and one civilian dead, Doğan news agency reported. The clash erupted when Iraqi soldiers attempted to enter northern Iraq; peshmargas tried to prevent the Iraqi soldiers from entering the area upon Barzani’s instructions.
‘Safer than Istanbul’
Amid the high-running tensions, locals expressed their confidence in the security condition in Arbil amid a cautious atmosphere in the city.
“Where do you live?” one man asked in the local bazaar. “This city is safer than Istanbul,” he quickly responded to the Hürriyet Daily News when he heard the name of the city. “There is no problem with the security, we get on well with the law enforcement officers,” another shop owner said.
Despite their confident statements, there are numerous police checkpoints on Arbil’s streets, while peshmarga forces patrol with AK-47 rifles. The city was also awash with rumors after the recent clashes between Baghdad forces and peshmarga. “The situation is very critical. We heard some reports that the two sides faced off against each other south of the city of Kirkuk and some roads were closed by the government,” another shop owner said.
Attack at any minute
Meanwhile, the commander of Kurdish peshmarga forces, Mahmoud Sankawi, warned that his troops could attack Iraqi government soldiers “at any minute,” after Baghdad’s military mobilization. Sankawi said his forces were on “high alert” and would resist if the central government continued sending forces toward Kirkuk. He said 30 tanks and several dozen armored vehicles were heading there overnight.
In a related development, Barzani told Turkish Ambassador to Baghdad Yunus Demirer and Consul General in Arbil Aydın Selcen during a recent visit by the pair that his administration was eager for the continuation of good relations with Turkey, Anatolian news agency reported.
Turkey and the KRG recently boosted their relationship, particularly in military, economic and trade terms, raising eyebrows in Baghdad.
Barzani said Nov. 19 that he also hoped for the enhancement of political, commercial and cultural cooperation with Turkey. For his part, Demirer said Barzani had an important role in the region, adding that the area would benefit from an improvement of relations.