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US stays neutral on Iraqi Kurdish confrontation

16 Oct 2017, 7.32 pm GMT

US stays neutral on Iraqi Kurdish confrontation

Washington, 16 October (Argus) — US president Donald Trump said Washington will not take sides in the escalating row between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and the central government in Baghdad.

US military commanders in Iraq are also downplaying the significance of clashes in the oil-rich Kirkuk area. Federal Iraqi forces have advanced into territory controlled by the KRG, positioning themselves to attempt to retake Bai Hassan field and Avanah Dome with around 275,000 b/d of combined crude output.

"We do not like the fact that they are clashing, but we are not taking sides," Trump said today.

The US administration has taken a hands off position since the dispute was sparked by the KRG referendum on independence last month. The US retains "excellent" relations with the Iraqi Kurds and the central government, Trump said. But Washington has not offered to mediate.

International and state-owned oil firms operating in northern Iraq say production has continued without interruption, despite the military operations.

The US military command overseeing operations against Islamist group Isis in Iraq described today's clashes as "coordinated movements, not attacks."

The US command said it was not supporting either the KRG or federal Iraqi forces near Kirkuk. It acknowledged reports of a "limited exchange of fire" but ascribed it to a misunderstanding. The US called for a renewed focus to defeating Isis forces in Iraq.

US Senate Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) today urged the Trump administration to serve as a mediator in the crisis. The administration should help find a peaceful resolution that preserves gains against Isis and finds a way "to accomodate Kurds' legitimate aspirations," Schumer said.

The administration's position reflects a conclusion that Erbil and Baghdad ultimately will shy away from direct military confrontation, according to Stuart Jones, who until August served as the acting head of the State Department's near east affairs bureau.

But the potential effects of shutting down some of oil fields in Kirkuk would negatively affect the KRG's budget and could indirectly benefit Baghdad, further raising tensions.

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