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Iraqi PM al-Abadi visits Ankara in wake of Kurdish independence referendum

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Ankara for talks with Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as the Baghdad administration stepped in and sent its army to Kirkuk after an independence referendum held by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Sept. 25.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara, al-Abadi and Erdoğan said the two countries would cooperate to eliminate all terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), from Iraqi soil.

Erdoğan also said Turkey was ready to lend support to Baghdad as it seeks to reopen an oil pipeline from the Kirkuk oilfields to Turkey, through which Iraq stopped sending oil in 2014.

Al-Abadi said his government would not allow any armed groups other than official forces to operate in Iraqi territory and added, “Our task is, of course, to ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq and to fight against all terrorist organizations that threaten not only Iraq, but the region.”

He also said they discussed a project that could help stabilize the region and stressed that his government gives importance to bilateral relations between Iraq and Turkey.

Following the referendum held by the KRG, Iraqi forces, which included the US-trained Counterterrorism Service and the Iranian-backed mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, drove the KRG’s peshmerga from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Oct. 16 and took down the Kurdistan flag in the disputed areas and hoisted the Iraqi banner.

The attack by Iraqi forces ordered by al-Abadi followed weeks of punitive measures taken by Baghdad against Kurdistan in response to the Sept. 25 independence referendum that saw 92.7 percent of the electorate voting to leave Iraq, despite Iraqi opposition.

Iraqi forces spearheaded by the Hashd al-Shaabi also entered downtown Shingal on Oct. 16 in the course of their advance on the disputed Kurdistani territories claimed by both Arbil and Baghdad.

Turkey welcomed the Kirkuk takeover by the Baghdad administration.

Turkey’s relations with Baghdad were strained after al-Abadi warned Turkey that it could cause a regional war by maintaining a military presence in Iraq and called for an immediate withdrawal in October 2016.

In October 2016, Erdoğan strongly criticized al-Abadi and said: “You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, your quality is not at my level, know your place.”

The Iraqi parliament decided on Oct. 4, 2016 to remove the Turkish troops in Iraqi soil, by force if needed, and described the Turkish units as an “invading force.” The decision then prompted mutual recriminations between the two countries and the summoning of ambassadors.

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