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Iraqi Kurds Concerned About US-Iran Escalation

FILE - The parliament building of Iraq's Kurdistan Region is seen in Irbil, northern Iraq, Oct. 29, 2017.

Leaders in the autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq said Wednesday that they were worried that any further escalation between the United States and Iran on Iraqi soil could throw the already unstable nation into a more volatile situation.

They also said they didn’t want their relatively safer region to be embroiled in a military confrontation between Washington and Tehran.

Some of the ballistic missiles that Iran launched Tuesday against U.S. forces in Iraq hit locations in near Irbil, the Kurdistan region's capital.

In an urgent meeting Wednesday, the three branches of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) discussed the recent developments following the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad and the subsequent Iranian missile response against U.S. military targets in Iraq.

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"The Kurdistan Region reiterates that a military solution will in no way solve the problems," the KRG said in a statement.

"The Kurdistan Region supports de-escalation of the situation and seeks dialogue and diplomatic solution to the problems," it said, adding, "It also seeks stability and peace, and urges all parties to refrain from dragging the Kurdistan Region into the rivalries."

‘Deeply concerned'

Kurdish officials noted they were "deeply concerned" that the situation between the U.S. and Iran could increase threats posed by terror groups in Iraq, referring to the Islamic State group.

Masoud Barzani, the former president of the Kurdish region who still has significant influence over local and national politics, said Kurdish parties did not seek to take part in what he called a proxy war.

"If the process of resolving the current issue in the Middle East region is in accordance to a path of reason and wisdom, we are certainly ready to cooperate. However, we cannot be involved in any proxy wars," Barzani said in a tweet Tuesday.

Following Iran's missile attack Tuesday, local Kurdish officials told VOA they were prepared to withstand potential attacks by Iran's proxies in the region.

"The Kurdistan Region hosts a very large U.S. consulate. It's certainly one of the Iranian targets in Iraq," Farsat Haji, a Kurdish security officer, told VOA. "Therefore, our local security forces have taken all precautionary measures for any future attack."

Local observers said events taking place elsewhere in Iraq as a result of the U.S.-Iranian tensions directly affect stability in the Kurdish region in the north.

"The further this situation escalates, the worse it will be for the Kurdistan Region," said Bakhtyar Zebari, a political analyst in Duhok, Iraq.

‘Caught in the crossfire'

Iran's missile attack "was a great example of how Kurds could be caught in the crossfire. Since Kurds are allies of the U.S., Washington needs to ensure that they are not under any threat," Zebari told VOA.

Since 1991, the Kurdish region has been enjoying more autonomy from the rest of Iraq. The U.S.-led coalition war on Iraq in 2003 allowed the Kurds more administrative, economic and political autonomy, thus largely keeping them away from Iraq's sectarian unrest and Baghdad's direct control.

FILE - A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter runs as he and comrades sweep the Bakirta village after Islamic State insurgents withdrew from the town, near Makhmur, south of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Aug. 27, 2014.
FILE - A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter runs as he and comrades sweep the Bakirta village after Islamic State insurgents withdrew from the town, near Makhmur, south of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Aug. 27, 2014.

During its rise in 2014, IS carried out attacks on several Kurdish towns, prompting Kurdish forces to join the U.S.-led fight against the group.

Local residents said they did not want to see the U.S.-Iranian tensions turn into a full-fledged confrontation on Iraqi territory.

"People have been through different kinds of wars since 2003. People here feel bad especially that they see what's going on today is taking place on Iraqi territory," said Mariwan Ibrahim, a civic activistin Sulaimani, near the Iran-Iraq border.

Trifa Salah, a college student in Sulaimani, said Kurds have been exhausted by conflicts and wars in the region.

"We are not even done with the war on ISIS, and now we are involved in another war that is not even ours," she said, using an acronym for the militant group.