By Safvan Allahverdi
The U.S. on Friday urged the Kurdish Regional and the Iraqi central governments to cease violence and cooperate to restore calm.
"The United States is concerned by reports of violent clashes around the town of Altun Kupri in northern Iraq," Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman explained in a statement. "We are monitoring the situation closely, and call on all parties to cease all violence and provocative movements, and to coordinate their activities to restore calm."
On Sept. 25, Iraqis in KRG-controlled-held areas -- and in several disputed parts of the country -- voted on whether or not to declare independence from the Iraqi state.
According to poll results announced by the KRG, almost 93 percent of those who cast ballots voted in favor of independence.
The illegitimate referendum faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors (including the U.S., Turkey and Iran), who warned that the poll would distract from Iraq’s fight against terrorism and further destabilize the region.
Nauert said the U.S. urges the Iraqi central government to calm the situation by limiting federal forces’ movements in disputed areas to those coordinated with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
"We are encouraged by Prime Minister Abadi’s instructions to federal forces to protect Iraqi Kurdish citizens and to not provoke conflict," she added.
Earlier this week, Iraqi joint forces -- including army troops, Federal Police units, and Hashd al-Shaabi fighters -- entered the oil-rich Kirkuk province following a tactical withdrawal by Peshmerga forces.
The Iraqi forces swiftly assumed control of the province’s strategic facilities, including the North Oil Company, Baba Gurgur oilfield, K1 military base, Mullah Abdullah oil refinery, Kirkuk’s main airport, and the Tikrit Bridge, among others.
"The reassertion of federal authority over disputed areas in no way changes their status – they remain disputed until their status is resolved in accordance with the Iraqi constitution," Nauert continued. "Until parties reach a resolution, we urge them to fully coordinate security and administration of these areas."
She noted that the U.S. remains committed to "a united, stable, democratic, and federal Iraq," and committed to the Kurdistan Regional Government as an integral component of the country.
"We will continue working with officials from the central and regional governments to reduce tensions, avoid further clashes, and encourage dialogue," she added.