Iraq fires gov­er­nor of Kirkuk amid dis­pute with Kurds

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP/ED -

KIRKUK, Iraq — Iraq’s par­lia­ment on 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 on Sept. 25 in three gov­er­norates that make up their au­ton­o­mous re­gion as well as dis­puted ar­eas like 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 il­le­gal.

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

Mo­hammedal-Kar­boli, another Arab law­maker, said Karim “threat­ens the coun­try’s unity and civil peace in Kirkuk.”

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, alKa­r­boli added.

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

“The par­lia­ment de­ci­sion ... doesn’t mean any­thing to Kirkuk and its gov­er­nor, who is still in of­fice,” said the state­ment.

Brett McGurk, U.S. spe­cial pres­i­den­tial en­voy to the anti-Is­lamic State coali­tion, called on Kur­dish lead­ers in Iraq to halt the ref­er­en­dum in fa­vor of an al­ter­na­tive.

McGurk said at a news con­fer­ence in Ir­bil that Brus­sels, Wash­ing­ton, Paris, London and Bagh­dad had co­op­er­a­tively de­vel­oped an al­ter­na­tive plan to the con­tentious ref­er­en­dum. While pro­vid­ing no de­tails on the al­ter­na­tive, he said he has pre­sented it to Kur­dish lead­ers.

“There’s an al­ter­na­tive on the ta­ble. It’s de­ci­sion time,” he said.

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 1991 Gulf War. It has its own par­lia­ment and armed forces, flies its own flag and has been a close U.S. ally against Is­lamic State and other mil­i­tant groups. But re­la­tions with Bagh­dad have grown strained over oil and the dis­puted ar­eas.

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