"We won't use the army against the people and we won't wage a war against the Kurds," Prime Minister Haider al Abadi said. He was speaking after the KRG called for talks with Baghdad over the post-referendum crisis.

Iraqi army tanks on patrol in northern Iraq.
Iraqi army tanks on patrol in northern Iraq. (Reuters)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi on Thursday declared that the Iraqi army would not be used against the Kurdish people.

We won't use the army against the people and we won't wage a war against the Kurds, al Abadi said.

He went on to stress that the Iraqi armed forces were devoted exclusively to providing public security inside Iraq and protecting the country from foreign threats.

"It is our responsibility to safeguard Iraq's unity, he asserted.

Tension has steadily mounted between Baghdad and northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) since September 25, when Iraqis in KRG-controlled areas and a handful of disputed areas voted on whether or not to declare independence.

In the aftermath of the poll, which the central government said was illegal, Baghdad banned international flights from entering KRG-controlled areas and closed all foreign diplomatic missions based in the Kurdish region.

KRG wants talks

Earlier on Thursday, the offered to hold talks with Iraqi authorities on the status of Kurdish airports, border posts and banks, targeted by central authorities after the referendum in an attempt to isolate the KRG after last month's referendum.

"To avoid this collective punishment, we invite [Iraqi Prime Minister] Haider al Abadi, again, we are ready for any form of dialogue and negotiations in conformity with the Iraqi Constitution," the KRG said in a statement published overnight.

It offered discussions "regarding the crossings, internal trade, providing services to the citizens, the banks and the airports."

Turkey's border with KRG

Turkey will gradually close border gates with northern Iraq in coordination with the central Iraqi government and Iran, in response to an independence referendum in Iraq's Kurdish region, Turkish Presidency spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on Thursday.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is expected to visit Baghdad on Sunday to meet with Iraqi counterpart Abadi. 

Roads reopened

Iraqi Kurdish forces on Thursday removed barriers they had installed just hours earlier on roads from the city of Mosul amid fears of an attack following last month's referendum, an official said.

The move came after Kurdish authorities said late on Wednesday they feared Iraqi forces and Iranian-trained Iraqi paramilitaries were "preparing a major attack" on the oil-rich region of Kirkuk and near Mosul in northern Iraq.

"The two main roads connecting Erbil and Dohuk with Mosul were reopened to the public and the situation returned to normal after a few hours," a senior Kurdish military official said.

"The closure was prompted by fears of a possible attack by Iraqi forces on the disputed areas," held by Kurdish forces but outside the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, the official added.

An Iraqi military spokesperson denied an attack on Kurdish forces was planned, saying government troops were preparing to oust Daesh from an area near the Syrian border.

Iraqi forces and the Popular Mobilisation Units are deployed south and west of Kirkuk in areas previously under the control of Daesh.

The area around the border post of Al Qaim, in western Iraq, is the last Iraqi region still under the control of the militants who overran a third of the country in 2014.

Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council issued arrest warrants on Wednesday for the chairman of the Kurdish referendum commission and two aides for "violating a valid [Iraqi] court ruling" banning the vote as against the Constitution.

Kirkuk, a Kurdish-held multi-ethnic region, has emerged as a flashpoint in the crisis between Baghdad and Erbil as it is claimed by both sides.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies