Baghdad court issues arrest warrant for Iraqi Kurd VP
Kosrat Rasul had referred to the Iraqi army and federal police as “occupation forces” in a statement on Oct. 18, the court said.
In the statement, Rasul, who is also the vice president of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish parties, criticized his own group for not having resisted the entry of Iraqi federal forces into the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, which is situated just outside the KRG’s official boundaries on disputed land claimed by Kurds, ethnic Turkmens and Arabs.
“The court considers these comments as provocation against the armed forces, under Article 226 of the penal code,” an offence which can carry a jail term of up to seven years or a fine, said a judiciary spokesman.
Baghdad’s forces on Oct. 16 swept into the multi-ethnic city of more than 1 million people, hub of a major oil-producing area, largely unopposed after most Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew rather than fight.
Rasul, who is close to KRG leader Masoud Barzani, head of the PUK’s rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), entered Kirkuk with his Peshmerga fighters on Oct. 15 but pulled out without a fight.
The judiciary in the Iraqi capital last week also ordered the arrest of three senior Kurdish officials responsible for organizing a Sept. 25 independence referendum that went ahead in defiance of Baghdad.
Iraq’s Supreme Court had ruled the vote unconstitutional and ordered it called off.
The arrest warrants are likely to prove toothless as Baghdad’s security forces do not operate inside the KRG, but they could stop the officials leaving the northern region.
Also on Oct. 19, KRG officials said that about 100,000 Kurds have fled Kirkuk for fear of sectarian reprisals since Iraqi forces took over.
Iraqi forces took back control of Kirkuk’s oilfields, effectively halving the amount of output under the direct control of the KRG in a serious blow to the Kurds’ independence quest.
Baghdad’s recapture of Kirkuk, put the city’s Kurds in fear of attack by Shi’ite Muslim paramilitaries, known as the Popular Mobilization, assisting government forces’ operations in the region.
Nawzad Hadi, the governor of Arbil, the KRG capital, told reporters that around 18,000 families from Kirkuk and the town of Tuz Khurmato to the southeast had taken refuge in Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, inside KRG territory. A Hadi aide told Reuters the total number of displaced people was about 100,000.
Hemin Hawrami, a top aide to Barzani, tweeted that people had fled “looting and sectarian oppression” inflicted by the Popular Mobilization militia.
“Where is @UNIraq @UNHCRIraq?” Hawrami said in another tweet, suggesting U.N. humanitarian agencies were doing little to help newly displaced people.
Lisa Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, had urged all parties on Oct. 18 to do their utmost “to shield and protect all civilians impacted by the current situation.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Oct. 18 that security was being maintained in Kirkuk by local police backed by the elite Counter Terrorism Service, trained and equipped by the United States mainly to fight Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.
“All other armed group should not be allowed to stay,” Abadi said, as he also called for dialogue.
A day later, KRG welcomed Abadi’s call for talks to resolve a crisis.
Sunni Muslim Kurds comprise the largest community in Kirkuk followed by Shi’ite Turkmen, Sunni Arabs and Christians, according to the Iraqi Planning Ministry in Baghdad.
Peshmerga forces were deployed into Kirkuk in 2014 when Iraqi government forces fell apart in the face of an offensive by ISIL, preventing the oilfields from falling into jihadist hands.
An Iraqi military statement on Oct. 18 said government forces had also taken control of Kurdish-held areas of Nineveh province, including the Mosul hydro-electric dam, after the Peshmerga pulled back.
With the referendum having given Abadi a political opening to regain contested land and shift the balance of power in his favor, it may prove a gamble that makes the KRG’s quest for statehood more elusive.
KRG Foreign Minister Fala Mustafa Bakir told broadcaster CNN that his side never meant to engage in war with the Iraqi army. He said there was a need for dialogue between the KRG and Iraq to enable a common understanding. The dispute, he added, was not about oil or the national flag but the future of two nations.
Meanwhile, KRG officials have postponed parliamentary and presidential elections of the autonomous region, according to Kurdish media.
The news agency Kurdistan 24 said the Kurdish region’s elections commission decided on Oct. 18 to postpone the elections originally slated for Nov. 1. It said the regional parliament would pick a new date.