Iraqi mili­tias spokesman says Kur­dish leader ‘worse’ than IS

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - WORLD NEWS - PHILIP ISSA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

BAGH­DAD — The spokesman of Iraq’s state-sanc­tioned mili­tias on Thurs­day de­scribed the Kur­dish leader be­hind last month’s vote for in­de­pen­dence as “worse” than the Is­lamic State group, but said the mili­tias have no im­me­di­ate plans to take mil­i­tary ac­tion.

Karim al-Nouri, spokesman for the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces, ac­cused the Kur­dish re­gional pres­i­dent, Ma­soud Barzani, of be­hav­ing like the leader of a fifth col­umn dur­ing the war against IS.

Barzani “is more dan­ger­ous than Daesh be­cause he comes from within Iraq,” said al-Nouri, us­ing the Ara­bic term for IS.

Last month’s non-bind­ing ref­er­en­dum, in which more than 90 per cent voted for in­de­pen­dence, es­ca­lated long-run­ning ten­sions between the au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion and the cen­tral govern­ment over the shar­ing of oil wealth and the fate of dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries like the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is held by Kur­dish forces but lies out­side their au­ton­o­mous zone.

The PMF con­sists of mainly Shi­ite Arab mili­tias, many of which are backed by neighbouring Iran. Iraq, Iran and neighbouring Turkey have all re­jected the ref­er­en­dum and in­sist Iraq’s bor­ders will not be re­drawn.

Al-Nouri ac­cused Kur­dish forces known as the pesh­merga of “oc­cu­py­ing ” eth­ni­cally mixed Kirkuk and “steal­ing the oil wells.” The pesh­merga as­sumed con­trol of Kirkuk in the sum­mer of 2014, when the Is­lamic State group swept across north­ern Iraq and the Iraqi mil­i­tary crum­bled.

“Any­one oc­cu­py­ing Iraqi land must be thrown out. We do not dis­crim­i­nate between Daesh and any­one else in this man­ner,” al-Nouri told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

He said the mili­tias have no im­me­di­ate plans to move on the city, and would fol­low or­ders from Bagh­dad. But other com­man­ders sug­gested clashes were on the hori­zon.

“I think Kirkuk will stay Iraqi, and there will be a ma­jor sac­ri­fice to re­take Kirkuk, af­ter the ap­proval of the Iraqi govern­ment,” said Rayan al-Kal­dani, com­man­der of the Baby­lon Move­ment, a Chris­tian mili­tia in the PMF.

Iraq’s Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi has ruled out mil­i­tary ac­tion in re­sponse to the ref­er­en­dum, but has also said he will de­ploy Iraqi forces in re­sponse to any vi­o­lence.

Vice-Pres­i­dent Ayad Allawi warned Mon­day there could be “civil war” over the city if the two sides failed to show re­straint.

The pesh­merga closed roads to Kirkuk early Thurs­day af­ter Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties warned that Bagh­dad was mov­ing forces in the di­rec­tion of the city. They re­opened them later in the day.

A lead­ing of­fi­cial of a Kur­dish op­po­si­tion party of­fered late Thurs­day to dis­solve the Kur­dish ad­min­is­tra­tion of Kirkuk and en­ter into “un­con­di­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions” with Bagh­dad over the city. Kirkuk’s gover­nor be­longs to the party, known as the PUK.

Be­fal Ta­l­a­bani, son of the late Iraqi Pres­i­dent Jalal Ta­l­a­bani, said he wanted to avoid war with the Iraqi cen­tral govern­ment. Ta­l­a­bani’s PUK is an archri­val of Barzani’s KDP party and en­joys good re­la­tions with Iran.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Ra­sool, spokesman for Iraq’s cen­tral mil­i­tary com­mand, said there were no un­usual troop move­ments near Kirkuk. He said the mil­i­tary was re­de­ploy­ing in the di­rec­tion of the western An­bar prov­ince, the last hold­out of IS mil­i­tants in Iraq.

PMF mili­tia forces are no more than 60 kilo­me­tres east and south of Kirkuk, ac­cord­ing to al-Nouri.

In com­ments di­rected to a Kur­dish re­porter Thurs­day, he said: “If a lit­tle boy who is play­ing with a match next to a tank of gaso­line, and the gaso­line ex­plodes, is it the gaso­line’s fault?”

WENN

Ma­soud Barzani casts his Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum vote at a vot­ing sta­tion in Er­bil, Iraq, late last month.

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