Iraqi prime min­is­ter urges calm in Kur­dish re­gion af­ter ri­ots

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - SINAN SALAHEDDIN

BAGH­DAD — Iraq’s prime min­is­ter on Mon­day called for calm in the self-ruled north­ern Kur­dish re­gion af­ter ri­ot­ing the pre­vi­ous night.

The ri­ots came af­ter the Kur­dish re­gional pres­i­dent de­cided to ef­fec­tively step down.

In his state­ment, Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi said the cen­tral gov­ern­ment is closely mon­i­tor­ing what he de­scribed as “at­tempts to cre­ate chaos and dis­or­der” in Ir­bil and Dahuk, two ci­ties in the Kur­dish re­gion.

On Sun­day, Kur­dish leader Ma­soud Barzani told the re­gional par­lia­ment in a let­ter read to law­mak­ers that he would not seek re-elec­tion af­ter last month’s Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum sparked a cri­sis with Iraq’s gov­ern­ment and neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. Barzani had spear­headed the ref­er­en­dum.

As the Kur­dish re­gional par­lia­ment was dis­cussing Barzani’s re­quest to have his pow­ers dis­solved, dozens of his sup­port­ers ri­oted out­side, ap­par­ently an­gry over the de­vel­op­ments and try­ing to ex­press their sup­port for him.

The pro­test­ers broke into the assem­bly and at­tacked law­mak­ers and jour­nal­ists un­til po­lice sub­dued them. They also at­tacked an of­fice of a ri­val po­lit­i­cal party and an op­po­si­tion TV sta­tion.

The Septem­ber ref­er­en­dum has left the Iraqi Kur­dish re­gion in­creas­ingly iso­lated. Within weeks, a back­lash from the vote re­vealed Barzani had mis­cal­cu­lated. The Kur­dish forces lost nearly half of the ter­ri­tory that they had con­trolled dur­ing the war against the Is­lamic State group.

The re­gion’s airspace was closed to in­ter­na­tional com­mer­cial flights, Turkey threat­ened the use of mil­i­tary force, and both Iran and Turkey threat­ened to close bor­der cross­ings vi­tal to the land­locked re­gion.

Barzani in a tele­vised speech Sun­day ad­dressed the Kur­dish re­gion, his first ap­pear­ance since the cri­sis erupted.

He blamed the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad, which had dis­missed the Kur­dish vote as il­le­gal, ac­cus­ing it of es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions. He also lam­basted ri­val Kur­dish po­lit­i­cal par­ties and said they were guilty of “trea­son,” re­fer­ring to the Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan, a party that op­po­nents say struck a deal with Bagh­dad to with­draw Kur­dish forces from the dis­puted oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The city was re­taken by Iraqi forces ear­lier this month.

Barzani’s re­quest, which was ap­proved by the re­gional par­lia­ment late Sun­day, was to dis­trib­ute his pres­i­den­tial pow­ers among the Kur­dish prime min­is­ter, the Kur­dish par­lia­ment and the ju­di­ciary.

The move prompted spec­u­la­tion on whether it was Barzani’s exit from pol­i­tics, but his se­nior as­sis­tant, Hemin Hawrami, told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Sun­day that Barzani “will stay in Kur­dish pol­i­tics and lead the high po­lit­i­cal coun­cil.” How­ever, as of Wed­nes­day, he will no longer be pres­i­dent of the re­gion.

Kur­dish pres­i­den­tial elec­tions that were due in Novem­ber have been post­poned in­def­i­nitely.

“We call for ad­her­ing to the law and for calm,” al-Abadi said from Bagh­dad, adding that the “po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences” on dis­play in the Kur­dish re­gion should not harm the Kur­dish ci­ti­zens of Iraq.

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