Kurdish forces withdraw to June 2014 lines: Iraqi army commander

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Kurdish Peshmerga forces have retreated to positions they held in northern Iraq in June 2014 in response to an Iraqi army advance into the region after a Kurdish independence referendum rejected by Baghdad, a senior Iraqi commander said on Wednesday.

An Iraqi military statement said government forces had taken control of Kurdish-held areas of Nineveh province, which includes the major city of Mosul, on Tuesday after the Peshmerga pulled back. The Mosul hydro-electric dam, northwest of the city, was among the positions recaptured, it said.

The Peshmerga had taken the territory over the past three years as part of the war against ISIS militants, filling a void left by a collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of an ISIS offensive across much of Iraq’s north.

With US backing, the Peshmerga rolled back ISIS and took further territory outside the official Kurdish autonomous entity, mainly in Kurdish-populated areas including oil-rich Kirkuk, claimed historically by the Kurds.

On Monday, Iraqi government forces, acting on Baghdad’s orders to counter the Sept. 25 Kurdish referendum, retook the Kirkuk area, just outside the boundaries of the Kurdistan Regional Government, after the Peshmerga retreated. Baghdad government forces then retook control of all of Nineveh.

“As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014,” the Iraqi army commander, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters. There was no immediate comment from the Kurdish side.

The Peshmerga pullback meant its forces were deployed once again roughly along KRG boundaries.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the recapture of Kirkuk and all other disputed areas claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central authorities in Baghdad in response to the referendum.

The United States sided with Abadi in rejecting the Kurds’ secessionist vote. KRG President Masoud Barzani has stood by it, saying the overwhelming “yes” for independence “won’t be in vain” and would be pursued by peaceful means.

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