Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expected the Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq will be completely defeated this year.
In a televised press conference on Tuesday after his weekly cabinet meeting, Abadi hailed the victories of the Iraqi security forces against IS group, especially in the last offensive in Hawijah Pocket in the western part of Iraq’s ethnically mixed province of Kirkuk, Xinhua news agency reported.
“The Iraqi joint forces liberated areas (near Hawijah) which any forces did not reach since the era of the former regime. Today, horror dominates Daesh (IS group) everywhere (in Iraq), and as we promised this year will be the complete end of IS terrorist group in Iraq,” Abadi said.
As for the referendum crisis with the Kurdish semi-autonomous region, Abadi reaffirmed Baghdad’s stance “not to discuss the referendum with anyone or negotiate before it is cancelled.”
“We cannot stand with arms folded in front of attempts to break up the country’s unity. Any dialogue should be based on Iraq’s unity, the constitution and the rejection of the referendum,” Abadi said.
Abadi also called on the Kurdish security forces, known as Peshmerga, “not to clash with the federal forces in the disputed areas (mainly controlled by Peshmerga), as the security responsibility is the duty of the federal government.”
Abadi’s comments came as the Iraqi security forces are carrying out an offensive to dislodge the extremist IS militants from the city of Hawijah and surrounding areas in west of Kirkuk.
The city of Kirkuk is part of the disputed areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurdish region. Most of the disputed areas are under control of the Peshmerga.
The operation to free Hawijah came as tensions are running high between Baghdad government and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan after the Kurdish region held a controversial referendum on independence of Kurdistan and disputed areas in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh, Diyala and Salahudin provinces.
The referendum was widely opposed because it would threaten the integrity of Iraq and it could undermine fight against IS.
In addition, neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Iran and Syria see that such a step would threaten their territorial integrity, as large populations of Kurds live in those countries.