KONFRONTASI-Kurdish authorities in Iraq offered on Wednesday to put an independence drive on hold, stepping up efforts to resolve a crisis in relations with Baghdad via dialogue.
But an Iraqi military spokesman suggested an offensive - launched to wrest back territory after Kurds voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum in September - would continue regardless.
The Iraqi government has transformed the balance of power in the north of the country since launching its campaign last week against the Kurds, who govern an autonomous region of three northern provinces and had held a swathe of other territory.
“The fighting between the two sides will not produce a victory for any, it will take the country to total destruction,” the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said in a statement.
The KRG proposed an immediate ceasefire, a suspension of the referendum result and “starting an open dialogue with the federal government based on the Iraqi Constitution”.
Baghdad has always considered the Kurdish secession referendum illegal. It responded last week by seizing back the city of Kirkuk, the oil-producing areas around it and other territory that the Kurds had captured from militant group Islamic State.
In a brief social media comment hinting that the campaign would continue, an Iraqi military spokesman said: “Military operations are not connected to politics.”
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the KRG should cancel the vote’s outcome as a pre-condition for talks. Several Shi‘ite members of parliament on Wednesday asked him to stick to his position and not to accept just a freeze of the referendum.
On Wednesday, Abadi began an official visit to neighboring Turkey and Iran. Turkey and Iran both have Kurdish populations of their own and have supported Baghdad taking a hard line on the referendum.
Now that the Kurds have swiftly yielded most of their territory outside of their autonomous region to the advancing Iraqi forces, there are signs of pressure easing. Iran announced the reopening of one of the border crossings with the Kurdistan region, which it had closed earlier this month in support of the Iraqi government.
In Ankara, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was ready to give all support to Baghdad as it seeks to reopen a crude oil pipeline from the Kirkuk oilfields to Turkey. The pipeline goes through the Kurdish autonomous region. Iraq had stopped shipping oil through it when the Kurds took Kirkuk in 2014.
In a statement to media after meeting Abadi, Erdogan said they discussed what political, military and economic steps they could take after what he called the “illegitimate” Iraqi Kurdish referendum last month.