BAGHDAD: Iraqi military leaders agreed Monday with commanders from the Kurdistan region to defuse tension and discuss pulling their troops back from an area over which they both claim jurisdiction.
Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region last week sent thousands of troops into the oil-rich territories along their contested internal border, raising the stakes in a long-running row over land and oil rights.
Military leaders from both sides met at the Defense Ministry in Baghdad in the presence of a senior military officer from the United States Monday.
The two sides agreed to keep meeting “and to activate the higher coordinating committees between the [federal] armed forces and the [Kurdish] regional guard forces” known as Peshmerga, a statement from military spokesman Colonel Dhia al-Wakil said, without providing details on the committees.
They also agreed to begin “calming the situation and searching for mechanisms to withdraw the units that were mobilized after the crisis to their former locations,” the statement said.
The meeting was chaired by national security adviser Falah al-Fayadh and attended by Iraqi General Faruq al-Araji, U.S. Lieutenant General Robert Caslen and delegations from the Federal Defense Ministry and the Kurdistan Ministry responsible for the Peshmerga forces, it said.
The Peshmerga Ministry’s media office said the Kurdish delegation included top Peshmerga officials Jabbar Yawar and Anwar Haj Othman.
Yawar said on Iraqiya state television that “we agreed that we would return the situation as it was before, and God willing, all the forces will return to their original areas.”
He did not provide further details, but did say “we are working on the success of the agreement” and described the meeting as “very good.”
The Iraqi army and Kurdish troops have previously come close to confrontation only to pull back at the last moment, flexing their muscles but lacking any real appetite for a fight.
Earlier Monday, Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said dialogue was the only solution, which had been brewing over the formation of a new command center for Iraqi forces to operate in the disputed areas.
The second military buildup this year illustrates how far relations between Baghdad’s central government, led by Shiite Muslim Arabs, and ethnic Kurds have deteriorated, testing Iraq’s federal cohesion nearly a year after U.S. troops left.
Washington intervened in August to help end a standoff between Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces which came close to confrontation along their internal border in another disputed area near the Syrian frontier.
The latest flare-up began a week ago when Iraqi troops went after a fuel smuggler who had taken refuge in the office of a Kurdish political party in one of the disputed areas, igniting a clash with Peshmerga fighters.