By Haydar Hadi
The U.S. is only sending military equipment -- and not ground forces -- to Iraq's northern Kirkuk province, Douglas Silliman, Washington’s ambassador to Baghdad, said Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference convened in Baghdad, the diplomat said they had had ground forces in Kirkuk for a long while, and were only dispatching military equipment now.
He went on to dismiss recent reports that the U.S. was still sending ground forces to the oil-rich province.
Noting that U.S. military officials were closely coordinating with their Iraqi counterparts, Silliman added there had been no agreement on whether the U.S. soldiers would remain in Kirkuk or whether their numbers would be increased, or whether they would be withdrawn.
He went on to say most of the Iraqi Petroleum Ministry’s contracts with international oil firms were "transparent", but voiced "concern" over certain sales agreements signed by the Erbil-based Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
The ambassador said the U.S. supported the KRG as a united and effective government that was not subject to internal Kurdish disputes.
Problems between Kurdish groups should be resolved in accordance with Iraq’s federal constitution, he added, echoing previous statements from Baghdad.
Following the KRG’s illegitimate Sept. 25 referendum on regional independence, Iraqi forces moved into several parts of the country "disputed" between Baghdad and Erbil, including Kirkuk.
Silliman also stressed that U.S. officials were cooperating closely with the Iraqi prime minister’s office with a view to stepping up the fight against corruption.
PM Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly said that Baghdad’s primary goal is to eliminate corruption following the eradication of the Daesh terrorist group, which has recently suffered a string of crushing defeats in both Iraq and next-door Syria.
*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara.