BAGHDAD: Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi on Wednesday launched talks with political leaders in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region to contain a crisis and avoid “civil war,” his office said.
The initiative comes after Massud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, said Kurdish and Iraqi forces clashed in a disputed town last week and as both sides issued warnings and reportedly sent reinforcements to the area.
Nujaifi launched “an initiative aimed at bringing the views between the two sides closer in order to defuse the crisis, and spare the country” from “civil war,” a statement from his office said.
The speaker began “a series of meetings with political leaders in Baghdad and Arbil to reach fundamental solutions to end the crisis and save the country from an internal crisis that could result in serious consequences,” it said.
A subsequent statement said Nujaifi met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, and planned on going Thursday to Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, for talks with Kurdish leaders.
Barzani has said that Kurdish security forces, known as peshmerga, clashed with Iraqi forces in the disputed town of Tuz Khurmatu on Friday, leaving one person dead and others wounded. An Iraqi general denied the peshmerga were involved.
Barzani, in a statement posted on his website, said he 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.”
Maliki’s office later warned the peshmerga “not to change their positions or approach the (federal) armed forces.”
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. Relations between the two sides are also marred by disputes over oil and power-sharing.
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 troops, and peshmerga. But US troops withdrew from Iraq last year, removing a buffer to Arab-Kurd tensions.