The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has offered to hold talks with Iraqi authorities on the status of Kurdish airports, border posts and banks, on which Baghdad placed restrictions following an independence referendum.
Iraq’s central government imposed a ban on direct international flights to the northern region as part of measures to isolate the KRG after last month’s referendum, which Baghdad says was illegal. 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, … (to) 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.”
Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence in the referendum last month.
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.
Abadi said on Thursday that he would not use the army against the Kurdish region, while an Iraqi military spokesman denied any attack on Kurdish forces was planned, saying government troops were preparing to oust Islamic State militants from an area near the Syrian border.
“We won’t use our army against our people or to launch a war against our Kurdish citizens,” Abadi said in a statement.
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.
Neighboring Iran and Turkey back Iraq’s uncompromising stance, fearing the spread of separatism to their own Kurdish populations.
Turkey will gradually close border gates with northern Iraq in coordination with the central Iragi government and Iran, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Thursday.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is expected to visit Baghdad on Sunday to meet with Iraqi counterpart Abadi.
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 Shi’ite paramilitaries, 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.