By Idris Okuducu
Peshmerga forces affiliated with northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have withdrawn from some 95 percent of all territories disputed between the KRG and Baghdad, Nasreddin Said, the KRG’s minister for disputed territories, said Wednesday.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Said noted that the Peshmerga withdrawal had been carried out as a direct result of joint operations conducted in mid-October by Iraqi army, police and Hashd al-Shaabi forces.
According to Said, Peshmerga forces had "secured" these areas after the Iraqi army left vast tracts of territory to the Daesh terrorist group in mid-2014.
"For over three years, the Peshmerga had total control of the area from [northern Iraq’s] Sinjar district to the city of Mosul to Diyala's Hanekin district," he said.
"According to Iraq’s constitution, joint [federal/Peshmerga] security forces should provide security in Kirkuk and in other disputed areas,” he said.
“But now, only the Iraqi army and the Hashd al-Shaabi are performing this function," Said added.
Saying many local families had fled to KRG-controlled areas after military operations in mid-October, Said asserted that members of KRG President Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party now feared for their safety and were unable to return to their homes.
Upon the instruction of Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, federal forces launched military operations on Oct. 16 with a view to securing Iraq’s oil-rich Kirkuk province and other territories “disputed” between the KRG and Baghdad.
The Peshmerga, which had held these territories since mid-2014, withdrew without incident, leaving them to Iraqi federal forces.
During the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Kurdish Peshmerga forces seized Kirkuk, prompting an influx of Kurds into the city.
Article 140 of Iraq’s 2005 constitution calls for Kurds who were forced to leave Kirkuk under former President Saddam Hussein to be allowed to return. It also calls for a popular referendum to determine whether Kirkuk should fall within Iraq’s Kurdish region.
Due to deep-seated political sensitivities, however, Article 140 has yet to be implemented.
*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara