PUK co-leader denies there was deal with Baghdad to withdraw Peshmerga in Kirkuk

PUK Co-leader Bafel Talabani speaks during an interview with Kurdish reporters in Sulaimani, November 28, 2020. (Esta Media Network)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Co-leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Bafel Talabani said there was no agreement with Baghdad to withdraw Kurdish forces in Kirkuk in October 2017.

Iraqi forces alongside Hashd al-Shaabi launched a military operation to retake control of disputed areas including Kirkuk from the Kurdish forces in mid-October 2017, in the wake of the independence referendum held by the Kurdish authorities in the Kurdistan Region and those areas.

There were rumors that the PUK had reached an agreement with the federal government led by former prime minister Haider al-Abadi to pull out the Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk.

“There was no agreement,” Talabani said during an interview with reporters in Sulaimani.

“We held meetings before attacks were launched on Kirkuk, and we talked with the U.S., UK and Abadi. We wanted to deploy K-1 military base with Coalition, Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and the [PUK] presidency’s signature was on that,” Talabani added.

“I went to the meeting in Dukan [north of Sulaimani] but they were not convinced on what I wanted. I repeated that there would be attacks … Tanks went on my Peshmerga. There was a fighting there which we couldn’t do,” he continued, reaffirming that no agreement had been reached with Baghdad.

The PUK co-leader also said the PUK knew that Kirkuk would undergo a military campaign and the situation in the province would be deteriorated.

“We knew the situation in Kirkuk would be like that, but some parties did not collaborate with us.”

Kirkuk and the other disputed areas including Khanaqin have been under the control of the federal government’s forces since then.

Despite talks between Iraqi and Kurdish officials to set up joint coordination centers, they have yet to reach a final agreement on the disputed areas.

Regarding relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region, Talabani said during the interview that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) should not wait for the federal government to send the Region’s share of the federal budget.

“We should not wait for Baghdad and knock on their gate every day … The best thing is that all the parties sit together and resolve the issue,” he noted.

In response to a question whether it is accurate that the Region’s internal revenue would be enough to pay salaries of public servants, Talabani said: “By the data I have seen, I think it is not correct.”

The Kurdistan Regional Government has yet to pay salaries of October and November to its employees, saying Baghdad is the reason for delays in payments.

The KRG has already cut off employees’ salaries for the months of April, May, June, July and August.

On November 25, the KRG Council of Ministers said it would send a formal letter to the federal government to request its budget share for May, June, July and October.

In April, the federal government, led by former prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, cut off all budget transfers to the Kurdistan Region due to the KRG’s failure to export 250,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) through Baghdad.

In November 2019, Erbil and Baghdad reached a deal to resolve their ongoing disagreement over oil, after Erbil agreed to export 250,000 bpd through Baghdad to Turkey’s Ceyhan port in exchange for the Kurdistan Region’s share of the federal budget.

Relations between Baghdad and Erbil eased after Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi took office in May. The federal government has transferred the Region’s share as payment for public servants since Kadhimi became prime minister.

In August, Kadhimi told the KRG prime minister in a telephone call that the federal government would send 320 billion Iraqi dinars to the Kurdistan Region as payment for the Region’s employees until the end of the year.

Regarding people’s livelihood in the Region, the PUK co-leader said his party believes in a reform program which is deeper than the government’s program.

“It is really a problem,” Talabani said, referring to the poor livings of people. “We must work for people. People are important to us. We believe in a reform program which is deeper than the one the government has.”

“It is time to end tensions and support each other. We as the PUK know that the situation is worsening. It is not only in Kurdistan, it is throughout Iraq,” he added.


*This article has been corrected in 13th line. The question of reporters was written as Region’s revenue would not be enough to pay salaries. 

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