By Qassim Khidhir
The Kurdish Globe
"The Iraqi army is not in a position to confront Peshmerga forces; Peshmerga forces are far and away stronger than the Iraqi army."- Anwar Hajji Osman, acting Peshmerga Minister
"There are political reasons behind the entry of Iraqi forces, who entered with the pretext of hunting down gunmen in the area that is considered one of the most stable areas in Iraq," said Khanaqin Mayor Mala Hassan.
Thousands of people, Kurds, Turkmens, and Arabs in the town of Khanaqin demonstrated on Tuesday to protest the deployment of Iraqi forces there.
The demonstrators carried slogans demanding respect for the will of Khanaqin citizens and the implementation of Article 140.
An organizer of the demonstrations, Salar Mahmud, said, "We think the military crackdown in Diyala province is politically aimed against the will of the Kurdish area residents, because it interferes in the administrational affairs of Kurdish organizations and parties. These military forces should be deployed to control areas affected by terrorism, not to show their power in front of the Kurdish people. We refuse the existence of the forces that make no difference between peaceful citizens and terrorists."
The demonstration was supervised by Mala Bakhtiyar, a member of the PUK politburo and representative for the Iraqi and Kurdistan Region presidents.
Bakhtiyar said that the Kurdish leadership wants to find a peaceful solution to the tensions that occurred. He pointed out that the Peshmerga forces deployed in the area are part of the Iraqi forces and play a crucial role in combating terror throughout Iraq.
Mayor Hassan said the Iraqi forces withdrew from the district of Khanaqin after the demonstration.
"A force from the Iraqi army withdrew from the Khanaqin district gates while the rest are currently withdrawing," he said.
The Iraqi forces, with logistical support from U.S. forces, have launched a large-scale security campaign in July codenamed Bashaer al-Kheir (Promise of Good) in a number of cities and districts of Diyala with the aim of eliminating armed groups active in those areas.
The operation has recently advanced to areas belonging to Khanaqin district, where the Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew from the districts of Qara Tapa and Jalawlaa through an agreement between the Kurdish authorities and the central government in Baghdad.
Khanaqin is a disputed area seeking a solution through the implementation of Article 140.
A Peshmerga source stated that their forces in the Khanaqin area are on alert for any unusual incidents. Anwar Hajji Osman, acting Peshmerga Minister, explained that when the Iraqi army began the operation in Diyala province with 27,000 soldiers and 400 U.S.-made Humvee, the Peshmerga forces noticed that the Iraqi army's main goal was to control areas inhabited by Kurds and disturb the Peshmerga and Kurdish political parties.
Osman said he was informed by Kurdish leadership that Kurdish leaders want to solve the issue peacefully through dialogue. "The Iraqi army is not in a position to confront Peshmerga forces; Peshmerga forces are far and away stronger than the Iraqi army," he said.