Iraqi Kurdish leaders offered Wednesday to freeze the outcome of last month’s vote for independence, taking a step back in a major crisis after Baghdad delivered a body blow by seizing swathes of disputed territory.
The proposal came as world powers scrambled to avert any further escalation of the conflict between the key allies in the fight against the Islamic State group that has seen more than 30 combatants killed.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi did not respond to the proposal during a visit to Ankara but once again slammed the Kurdish authorities for pushing on with the referendum “unilaterally and without any consideration for the rest of Iraq”.
Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) force, whose mainly Iran-trained Shiite paramilitaries played a major role in the operation against the Kurds, said a freeze did not go far enough and demanded the outright annulment of the independence referendum.
Washington, Moscow and the United Nations have all pressed Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani to open talks with Baghdad on a way out of the crisis sparked by the fateful September 25 vote that he called.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, led by Barzani, said it would propose to the federal government “the freezing of the results of the referendum… and the start of an open dialogue” on the basis of the constitution.
It also called for “an immediate ceasefire and cessation of military operations in Kurdistan”.
Since early last week, Iraqi federal troops and allied militia have retaken virtually all of the territory held by the Kurds outside their longstanding three-province autonomous region in the north.
There were clashes on Tuesday between government and Kurdish forces close to the frontier with Turkey as Baghdad made a push to reclaim control of key border crossings around the region.