Iraqi PM Won't Freeze Vote Results

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iraq's prime minister on Thursday dismissed a proposal from the country's Kurdish leaders to "freeze" the results of their independence vote last month as Iraqi government forces and Kurdish fighters traded fire near the country's border with Turkey.

The central government "will accept only the cancelling of the referendum and following the constitution," Haider al-Abadi said, according to a written statement released by his office. The announcement came during al-Abadi's visit to Iran.

The Iraqi Kurdish referendum last month overwhelmingly backed independence from Baghdad. Kurdish authorities held the vote in the three provinces that make up their autonomous region in northern Iraq, as well as in a string of territories claimed by Baghdad that were at the time controlled by the Kurds, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Though the referendum was non-binding, it has roiled tensions both with the central government and key regional players. The United States, Turkey and Iran have all dismissed the vote.

Sporadic fighting has erupted over the past week between Kurdish and Iraqi forces, former allies in the battle against the Islamic State group, as government forces with allied mostly Shiite militias retook the contested areas, including the city of Kirkuk.

After days of largely low-level clashes, Kurdish leaders on Wednesday offered to freeze the referendum results to facilitate talks with Baghdad and end the violence.

Early on Thursday, the Kurdish leadership reported that Iraqi troops launched "an offensive" against Kurdish fighters near the border with Turkey.

Ahmed al-Asadi, a spokesman for the mostly Shiite militia fighters known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, said Kurdish troops opened fire on the Baghdad-led forces as they moved toward the borders. He told the Associated Press the clashes did not result in any casualties.

In Tehran, al-Abadi on Thursday met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has final say on all state matters. Earlier, he attended an official reception hosted by Senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri at a government estate north of Tehran.

Regional issues and bilateral ties were expected to dominate the agenda, as well as the Iraqi Kurds' independence referendum.

Iran remains a major player in the war against the Islamic State group and culturally across Iraq, its one-time bitter enemy when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein waged an eight year war on Iran in 1980s that left more than one million casualties on both sides.

(KA)