The Iraqi prime minister has welcomed a decision by Kurdish officials to respect a recent court ban on secession, but called on them to hand over control of the territory they have illegally overrun since 2003.
“We will not back down, our forces are there and I urge officials of the (Kurdish) region to abide by their previous statements and return to 2003 borders and, secondly, to hand over borders to the federal authority,” Haider al-Abadi said during a weekly news conference on Tuesday.
He further urged the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to “coordinate and cooperate” with Baghdad on issues related to oil revenues, airports and borders.
Iraq’s constitution recognizes a semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the country’s north administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The region is comprised of three provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk.
However, the Kurds took advantage of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq to expand their territory to include disputed regions such as Kirkuk.
Kurdish militants further swept through more areas in 2014, when they joined Iraq’s fight against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group.
“I would not say that our patience will run out, but we will not wait forever and we will take measures,” Abadi said.
The premier, however, predicted that his government’s forces would regain control of the border areas without confrontation.
Abadi further added that the Iraqi constitution protects the nation’s integrity, “ensuring security, stability and enforcing the federal authority in all places. This stance serves the interests of our citizens, especially Kurdish citizens.”
The premier’s remarks came hours the KRG said conceded that it would abide by a recent top court ruling that bans any secession from the mainland, expressing hope that the decision will set the stage for dialog between Baghdad and Erbil.
It followed a controversial referendum on the secession of the Kurdish region, which was held on September 25 in defiance of strong objection from both Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors, particularly Iran and Turkey.
The plebiscite prompted the Iraqi government to take a number of punitive measures, including a military campaign to seize back the positions overrun by the Kurdish militants.
Iraqi government forces have accused the Kurds of delaying the handover of control of border crossings.