Iraq ousts governor amid Kurd dispute
Move adds to tensions of independence vote
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.
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.