Baghdad-Arbil dispute fueled by military HQ

Baghdad-Arbil dispute fueled by military HQ

Baghdad-Arbil dispute fueled by military HQ

KRG leader Barzani says that the formation of the new army headquarters in Kirkuk is an unconstitutional step. AP photo

The formation of new military headquarters covering the cities of northern Iraq has sent already poor relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) plummeting further.

The new Tigris Operations Command - based in Kirkuk and covering the entire province of the same name, as well as neighboring Salaheddin and Diyala - has drawn an angry response from Kurdish leaders who want to incorporate much of the area into their region.

“The formation of the Dijla [Tigris] Operations Command in Kirkuk and Diyala is an unconstitutional step by the Iraqi government,” KRG President Massoud Barzani said in recent remarks reported by Agence France-Presse. “The intentions, aims, formation and actions of this command center are against the Kurdish people, the political process, co-existence and the process of normalizing the situation in the disputed areas.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responded by warning Kurdish peshmerga forces to “avoid provoking” Iraqi security forces.

“We call on peshmerga forces not to carry out any acts that arouse tensions and instability in those areas and we advise them to stay away from government forces,” said the statement, attributed to al-Maliki and referring to his position as commander in chief of Iraq’s armed forces.

The latest dispute strikes at the heart of an unresolved row between Baghdad and the KRG in Arbil over territory, oil and the interpretation of Iraq’s federal Constitution. The Tigris Operations Command was set up Sept. 1 with its head, Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi saying it intended to address the poor security coordination in the area that had allowed several violent attacks to occur.

Al-Zaidi, also head of the army’s 12th division that covers Kirkuk and parts of Salaheddin, insisted that his forces were not entering the city of Kirkuk, which is secured by the local police force.

But Kirkuk province’s Kurdish governor Najim al-Din Omar Karim has refused to cooperate with the new command, arguing there was already sufficient coordination between existing institutions. “The Iraqi army must not intervene; we cannot accept the imposition of martial law on us,” he said.