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Iran, Iraq hold military exercises near Kurdistan
October 03, 2017
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SULAIMANIYAH: Iranian and Iraqi forces conducted joint military exercises on Monday near the border with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, a Kurdish official said, following tensions over the Kurds’ independence vote.

“Iraqi and Iranian units began exercises at 11:00am with tanks and infantry only 250 metres from the border,” Shwan Abu Bakr, the Kurdish customs chief at the Bashmakh border post, told reporters.

“Iraqi forces are dressed in black and there is a large number of Iranian forces,” he said, the black uniforms indicating that the Iraqi forces were from the country’s elite Counter Terrorism Service.

The Iranian military on its website announced joint military exercises with units of the Iraqi army involving armour and artillery units as well as drones and other aviation.

It appeared the manoeuvres were the first joint military exercises between Iran and Iraq since 1979.

An Iranian military official announced on Saturday that the two countries would hold a joint military exercise in response to the referendum.

Baghdad declared the ballot illegal and suspended flights in retaliation.

The decision to carry out the exercises followed a high-level meeting of Iranian commanders where “the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and the illegitimacy of the independence referendum in northern Iraq were stressed again,” he said.

Iraqi soldiers last week also took part in a Turkish military drill close to the Iraqi frontier.

Iraqi Kurds voted 92.7 per cent in favour of independence on Sept.25 in a non-binding referendum held in defiance of the central government, which hit back in retaliation.

Following the vote, Iraq, Iran and Turkey − which all have sizeable Kurdish minorities − took a series of measures to isolate Iraqi Kurdistan, including the suspension of international flights to and from its two main airports.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government on Monday demanded Kurdish authorities stop “provocations” in disputed territories.

Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s office insisted the Kurdistan region halt movements of its peshmerga security forces and return Baghdad’s control over areas Arbil claimed after a 2014 advance by the Daesh group.

“The region must stop the escalation and provocation in areas seized by it,” spokesman Saad Al Hadithi said in a statement.

Hadithi told reporters that Kurdish forces had declared that they would remain in several disputed areas and were continuing movements in the province of Nineveh that were meant to be “temporary.”

“These movements have to cease,” he said.

Officially comprising Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah provinces, Iraqi Kurdistan also claims other territory including oil-rich Kirkuk province − a dispute that is a major source of contention with Baghdad.

Hadithi demanded that Arbil “cancel the results of the referendum” and “engage in serious dialogue to strengthen the unity of Iraq.”

Also on Monday Iraq authorised foreigners stranded in Iraqi Kurdistan after an international flight ban to leave the country via Baghdad despite not having a federal visa.

Foreigners who had entered the northern autonomous region on regional visas not recognised by Baghdad could previously not travel to other parts of Iraq.

“Any person can leave the country via Baghdad without paying a fine or for an exit visa,” Interior Minister Qassem Al Araji told journalists.

Agence France-Presse

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