ARBIL, Iraq – The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region has ordered its peshmerga security forces on high alert, a statement issued on Saturday said, attributing the move to clashes with central government forces.
An Iraqi general however said that the clashes in question came during an arrest attempt and did not involve the peshmerga.
Tensions between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq have been running high after the establishment of a new military command covering disputed territory, and over various other long-running disputes.
Kurdistan president Massud Barzani called “on the peshmerga forces to exercise restraint in the face of provocations, but also to be in a highest state of readiness to face any aggressive acts,” the statement on his website said.
It said the alert followed clashes between central government forces and peshmerga in the disputed town of Tuz Khurmatu on Friday “in which one person died and several were wounded.”
But the head of Baghdad’s recently established Tigris Operations Command, Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi, told AFP that the incident did not involve the peshmerga and was rather an attempt to arrest a man accused of offences including murder and kidnapping.
The establishment of the command, based in Kirkuk city and covering all of the province of the same name as well as neighbouring Salaheddin and Diyala, has drawn an angry response from Kurdish leaders who want to incorporate much of the area into their autonomous region.
The dispute over the command strikes at the heart of an unresolved row between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government in Arbil over territory, oil and the interpretation of Iraq’s federal constitution.