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Russia vows 'to throw its weight' behind Iraq's territorial integrity

The Russian and Iraqi top diplomats discuss military operation in Kirkuk
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov  Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS

MOSCOW, October 23. /TASS/. Russia backs Iraq’s territorial integrity and regards creating new division lines based on national and religious grounds as unacceptable, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said opening talks with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Monday.

"I want to once again confirm our commitment to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, the commitment to solving all the problems that arise through an inclusive national dialogue, involving and taking into account the interests of all ethnic, religious and political groups," Russia’s top diplomat stressed.

Lavrov also noted that while the situation starts normalizing, talks on a political settlement in different areas of the region are on the horizon, "it is very important to prevent the creation of new division lines based on religious or ethnic grounds and to overcome the old ones."

Iraqi Kurdistan, the country’s autonomous region, held an independence referendum on September 25, which was strongly opposed by the Baghdad. More than 90% of voters supported the idea of independence from Iraq, Kurdistan's Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission announced.

Baghdad says the referendum was held in violation of a key law and refuses to recognize its results.

Kirkuk operation

The goal of the military operation in the northern city of Kirkuk is to maintain the security and territorial integrity of Iraq, al-Jaafari said.

"The government’s operation in Kirkuk is aimed only at ensuring the city’s security and also at preserving the integrity of the region," al-Jaafari said.

"Kirkuk has always been the heart of Iraq and a place where its pulse beats, and where this country’s crucial economic interests are concentrated," the minister noted, warning: "Those who seek to shatter the situation in the city, shatter the situation among the Kurds."

On October 16, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraqi Armed Forces, ordered government forces to restore security and stability in Kirkuk. The situation there deteriorated after the city, which is not part of Kurdistan, joined the September 25 independence referendum in the autonomous region unilaterally.

Less than in 24 hours, the military regained control over the city and its outskirts after the Peshmerga, the military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, had withdrawn from there. The government forces also took control over all oil deposits of Kirkuk, developed by the state-run North Oil Company."

Invitation to Baghdad

Al-Jaafari has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov to visit Baghdad.

"We are still waiting for you [Lavrov] to visit Baghdad as soon as possible," he said. "The same is true of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s possible visit." "Russia is a close friend of ours, and, considering the role it plays in the world, it lags behind other countries in terms of visiting Baghdad," the minister added.

Iraq is grateful to Russia for the support Moscow provides to strengthen the country’s sovereignty and security, he resumed.

Specifically, he thanked Russia for the assistance in the fight against the Islamic State (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia) and for the support in terms of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. "I would also like to note here that Russia’s stance on the issue is very friendly to us," he stressed. "Russia is respected all over the world, including by our Kurdish brothers whom we consider an integral part of our people."

According to the minister, Baghdad’s stance on the Kurdistan referendum enjoys broad international support. "The entire world community has taken our side," he noted. "No one supported the referendum. That concerns both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which unanimously supported us. The UN Security Council also spoke out in favor of our position during the debate."

Al-Jaafari voiced regret over the fact that the events related to the referendum "occurred at a time when Iraq was gearing up for declaring victory over terrorism." "Everyone comprehends that the referendum is unconstitutional, because the first article of the country’s Constitution states that Iraq is a sovereign, single and indivisible state," he stressed. "The Constitution did give our Kurdish brothers an opportunity to create their own region, but that does not mean the right to secession from Iraq."