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Iraq orders 24-hour truce in standoff with Kurds over Kirkuk takeover by Iraqi forces

Peshmerga fighters relax on a hillside position on the frontline outside the town of Altun Kubri on Oct. 23, 2017 in Altun Kubri, Iraq. Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters have clashed over the past week after Iraqi forces took over the disputed city of Kirkuk in reaction to last month’s controversial Kurdish Independence referendum. (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Iraq orders 24-hour truce in standoff with Kurds over Kirkuk takeover by Iraqi forces

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered a 24-hour suspension to military operations against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, to allow for the peaceful deployment of Iraqi troops at the border crossings with the Kurdistan region.

A Kurdish spokesman earlier said the two sides reached an agreement on Friday to stop fighting which broke out on Oct. 16, after Iraqi forces seized the oil-city of Kirkuk.

Abadi ordered the offensive on Kirkuk and other Kurdish-held territory in retaliation to the Sept. 25 vote for independence in a referendum organized by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – a drive that was all but crushed by the surprise attack.

The 24-hour truce “should allow a joint technical committee … to work on the deployment of federal Iraqi forces in all disputed areas, including Fish-Khabur, and the international border”, Abadi said in a statement.

“This should prevent bloodshed between the children of the same country.”

He wants to take control of border crossings with neighboring countries, including one in the Fish-Khabur area through which an oil export pipeline crosses into Turkey, carrying Iraqi and Kurdish crude oil.

The KRG on Wednesday proposed an immediate ceasefire, a suspension of the referendum result and “starting an open dialogue with the federal government based on the Iraqi constitution” – call rejected by Baghdad.

According to the KRG, which is based in the Kurdish autonomous region’s capital of Erbil, the ceasefire entered effect at 1 a.m. on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday).

“The ceasefire is holding,” Vahal Ali, the director of KRG President Masoud Barzani’s media office, told Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also urged dialogue to start, in a call to Abadi, the Iraqi central government said in a statement on Friday morning.

U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces, Iranian-backed paramilitaries and Kurdish fighters fought alongside each other to defeat Islamic State, also called ISIS, but the alliance has faltered with the militants largely defeated in the country. (Reuters)

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