Iraq ousts gover­nor amid Kurd dis­pute

Move adds to ten­sions of in­de­pen­dence vote

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - WORLD - Bye­mad­matti and Qas­sim Ab­dul-zahra The As­so­ci­ated Press

KIRKUK, Iraq — Iraq’s par­lia­ment Thurs­day voted to dis­miss the Kur­dish gover­nor of the eth­ni­cally mixed Kirkuk prov­ince in a move that could es­ca­late ten­sions ahead of a planned Kur­dish ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence.

To the south of Baghdad, mean­while, mil­i­tants at­tacked a check­point and nearby restau­rant in south­ern Thi Qar prov­ince, killing at least 60 peo­ple and wound­ing 83, ac­cord­ing to pro­vin­cial Gov. Yahya al-nas­siri. The Is­lamic State group, through its Amaq news agency, claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold the vote Sept. 25 in three gov­er­norates that make up their au­ton­o­mous re­gion as well as dis­puted ar­eas such as Kirkuk that are con­trolled by Kur­dish forces but claimed by Baghdad. Late last month, Kirkuk’s pro­vin­cial coun­cil voted to take part in the ref­er­en­dum. Iraq’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment has re­jected the polls as un­con­sti­tu­tional and il­le­gal.

Law­maker Hus­sein al-ma­liki said par­lia­ment voted to dis­miss Kirkuk Gov. Na­jmid­din Karim based on con­sul­ta­tions with Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-abadi.

All Kur­dish mem­bers boy­cotted Thurs­day’s ses­sion, while 187 mainly Arab and Turk­men leg­is­la­tors voted in fa­vor, the two law­mak­ers said. The gover­nor has the right to ap­peal the de­ci­sion, al-kar­boli added.

Shortly af­ter the ses­sion, the Kirkuk gover­nor re­jected the par­lia­ment de­ci­sion in a state­ment, de­scrib­ing it as “in­valid” and in­sist­ing that he will stay in of­fice.

Oil-rich Kirkuk is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turk­men and Chris­tians. Kur­dish forces took con­trol of the prov­ince and other dis­puted ar­eas in the sum­mer of 2014, when the Is­lamic State group swept across north­ern and cen­tral Iraq and the Iraqi armed forces crum­bled.

Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion has en­joyed a high de­gree of au­ton­omy since the U.S. im­posed a no-fly zone over north­ern Iraq af­ter the 1990 Gulf War. It has its own par­lia­ment and armed forces, flies its own flag and has been a close U.S. ally against IS and other mil­i­tant groups. But re­la­tions with Baghdad have grown strained in re­cent years over oil and the dis­puted ar­eas.

Balint Szlanko

The As­so­ci­ated Press A Kur­dish man wear­ing tra­di­tional clothes passes un­der a Kur­dish flag last month in Ir­bil, Iraq. De­spite calls from Baghdad and the United States to post­pone, Iraq’s semi-au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion is press­ing ahead with a Sept. 25 ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence.

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