SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq, Oct 15, (Agencies): The presidents of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan held talks Sunday to defuse an escalating crisis, after a deadline for Kurdish forces to withdraw from disputed positions was extended by 24 hours.
Thousands of Iraqi troops are locked in an armed standoff with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, amid spiralling tensions following last month’s vote by the Iraqi Kurds for independence. The crisis is raising fears of fresh chaos in Iraq just as the country’s forces are on the verge of routing the Islamic State group from the last territory it controls in the country.
Kurdish forces, who were key allies in the US-backed offensive against IS, are refusing to surrender positions they took during the fightback against the jihadists over the past three years. Iraq’s central authorities had demanded the Kurds withdraw from disputed areas overnight but the deadline was extended by a day following talks.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum, himself a Kurd, was meeting Sunday with Iraqi Kurd leader Massud Barzani in Dukan in Sulaimaniyah province, offi- cials said. The Peshmerga forces based in Kirkuk are mainly loyal to Masum’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of party, a rival of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Representatives of both parties were taking part in the talks.
The Iraqi president was to submit a plan based on “dialogue and negotiation to avoid confl ict and violence,” Abdallah