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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Iraq sees 'progress' in talks on Kurdish peshmerga pullback

PM Abadi orders 24-hour ceasefire and both sides are still talking

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Iraqi and Kurdish commanders have made "progress" in talks on Kurdish fighters withdrawing from disputed areas, Iraq's chief of staff said hours before a truce in clashes over a key border post was due to expire.

But after the talks in central Nineveh province on Saturday, General Othman Al Ghanimi said there were "sticking points" that still need to be resolved.

"We have reached an agreement on some points," he said. "There has been progress but the definitive solution is in the hands of the other (Kurdish) delegation. They must return to Kurdistan for consultation and give us their answer."

The Iraqi side is still waiting to hear from the Kurds on a number of other issues, he said but added that they would continue communicating by phone.

Mr Abadi on Friday night ordered a 24-hour ceasefire in clashes between federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters. The two sides had faced off since Thursday as Iraqi forces sought to capture the vital oil export point of Fishkhabur on the border with Turkey. Both armed and trained by the US in the fight against ISIL they had exchanged heavy artillery fire in the latest flare-up of a crisis sparked by a Kurdish independence vote on September 25.

On Saturday, a suicide bomber killed at least three people at the funeral of an anti-jihadist Sunni fighter in Iraq, according to security and medical sources. .

The bomber struck as tribal paramilitaries were giving their condolences. He detonated an explosive belt outside a mosque in Al Mashahada about some 40 kilometres north of Baghdad. The military command in the capital said the attack killed a guard and two civilians, while a medical source said that another 12 people were wounded.

ISIL has carried out bloody attacks both in the capital and across the country but despite being under increasing pressure in both Syria and Iraq, extremist cells remain active north of Baghdad.

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Abadi's spokesman, Saad Al Hadithi, said a "joint technical committee" comprising Iraqi and Kurdish delegates was meeting to find a solution to the stand-off at the border post.

- Return to 'Blue line' -

"The main task of this joint technical committee is to allow the deployment without violence of federal forces along the borders," he said. "Commanders of the federal forces and of the peshmerga are meeting to allow for this redeployment in a peaceful and humane fashion."

The aim of the talks was to negotiate the return to a 2003 "blue line" restricting autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan to the three northern provinces of Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah, said Mr Hadithi.

But a Kurdish official said the US-led coalition had pushed them towards negotiations.

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Read more:

Iraqi and Kurdish forces agree to a ceasefire, US-led coalition says

The ceasefire agreement between Baghdad and Erbil must not go to waste

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Since mid-October, Iraqi forces have reclaimed the entire oil-rich province of Kirkuk, stripping the Kurds of a major chunk of their oil revenues and dealing a crippling blow to their hopes of independence. On Friday, the Iraqi military gave the Kurds an ultimatum to withdraw from the Fishkhabur border area where rival pipelines belonging to the two sides cross into Turkey.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003, and more specifically in the thick of ISIL's lightning advance across northern Iraq in 2014, the Kurds had taken control of the disputed territories which were also claimed by Baghdad. But Iraqi forces have over the past two weeks recaptured all of the disputed lands, much of it without Kurdish resistance.

Iraq's constitution adopted during the US-led occupation of 2003-2011 provides for plebiscites in the disputed areas on their possible incorporation in the autonomous Kurdish region. Baghdad insists, however, that the constitution provides for Iraqi federal control of the country's borders.

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Read more:

Seizure of Kirkuk fields sees dreams of Kurdish autonomy crumble

Barzani’s independence gamble has failed. Now Baghdad has the upper hand

Iraqi Kurdish parliament postpones legislative elections for 8 months

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