Kurds warn of re­tal­i­a­tion if no ne­go­ti­a­tions

Gov­ern­ment closes bor­ders, roads over in­de­pen­dence vote

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - Rod Nord­land and David Zucchino, The New York Times

The pres­i­dent of Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion warned Fri­day that the Kurds might be forced to re­tal­i­ate if the cen­tral gov­ern­ment per­sists with what his spokesman called a “very ag­gres­sive” stance to­ward the pro-in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

IR­BIL, Iraq — The pres­i­dent of Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion warned Fri­day that the Kurds might be forced to re­tal­i­ate if the cen­tral gov­ern­ment per­sists with what his spokesman called a “very ag­gres­sive” stance to­ward the pro-in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum.

Over­seas flights were can­celed Fri­day from the in­ter­na­tional air­port in Ir­bil, hours be­fore a ban by the Iraqi gov­ern­ment took ef­fect, and there were also re­ports of some in­ter­nal high­way clo­sures.

Saad al-Ha­dithi, the spokesman for Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi, said that land bor­ders would also be closed be­tween Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion and Turkey and Iran.

“We are hope­ful that these are all tem­po­rary mea­sures,” said Va­hal Ali, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the of­fice of Mas­soud Barzani, the Kur­dish re­gion’s pres­i­dent. “We want this to be a peace­ful tran­si­tion, but if Bagh­dad de­cides not, there is a lot we can also do.”

Ali was crit­i­cal of threats by Bagh­dad to ask Turkey to cut a vi­tal oil pipe­line, which pro­vides most of the es­ti­mated $8 bil­lion the Kur­dish re­gion earns an­nu­ally from oil rev­enues, and a re­quest from the Iraqi par­lia­ment to move troops into the oil-rich, Kur­dish­held city of Kirkuk.

“Bagh­dad’s re­sponse to the ref­er­en­dum was very ag­gres­sive, so we don’t know what will hap­pen,” the spokesman said.

Iraqi Kurds over­whelm­ingly voted in fa­vor of in­de­pen­dence in a ref­er­en­dum Mon­day, which Ali said obliges Barzani to ne­go­ti­ate in­de­pen­dence from the rest of Iraq. Bagh­dad has re­fused to en­ter such ne­go­ti­a­tions, and Ali said that if it main­tained that at­ti­tude, Kur­dis­tan would be forced to uni­lat­er­ally de­clare in­de­pen­dence.

“We’ve re­peat­edly said we can ne­go­ti­ate, but that has to be on the ques­tion of in­de­pen­dence,” Ali said.

Kur­dish of­fi­cials have ex­pressed dis­may at the lack of sup­port they have found in­ter­na­tion­ally, with the United States and other pow­ers, as well as the United Na­tions, crit­i­cal of the de­ci­sion to even hold the ref­er­en­dum and none ex­press­ing ap­proval for the pro-in­de­pen­dence re­sult.

Hosh­yar Ze­bari, who helped lead the ref­er­en­dum drive in the Kur­dish re­gion and was for­merly Iraq’s for­eign min­is­ter, said that crit­i­cism of the vote from the United States had “em­bold­ened Bagh­dad” to take a hard-line po­si­tion to­ward the Kurds. Bagh­dad’s threat­ened re­tal­i­a­tion was, he said, “very dam­ag­ing and provoca­tive, and il­log­i­cal and de­struc­tive.”

Ali said the Kurds were hope­ful that in­ter­na­tional al­lies would even­tu­ally come around to the idea of Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence.

Iraq’s in­flu­en­tial Shi­ite spir­i­tual leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al Sis­tani, was strongly crit­i­cal of the Kur­dish move in his Fri­day ser­mon in the south­ern city of Kar­bala.

“Any in­di­vid­ual steps to­ward di­vi­sion and sep­a­ra­tion and the at­tempt of mak­ing this thing re­al­ity will lead to in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal re­ac­tion and bad con­se­quences that would dam­age our dear Kur­dish cit­i­zens,” he said, adding that move to­ward in­de­pen­dence could also lead to for­eign in­ter­ven­tion.

On Fri­day, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials in Bagh­dad con­firmed that the strate­gic high­way link­ing Mo­sul and the north­ern city of Do­huk, in Kur­dish-held ter­ri­tory, was closed by the Iraqi mil­i­tary for sev­eral hours. In ad­di­tion, protests by civil­ians forced the clo­sure of the Kirkuk-Bagh­dad high­way Fri­day.

The Iraq bor­der agency an­nounced that it was send­ing con­voys of po­lice of­fi­cers and In­te­rior Min­istry of­fi­cials to guard three key land bor­der cross­ings be­tween the Kur­dish re­gion and Syria, Turkey and Iran be­gin­ning Satur­day.

Ivor Prickett/The New York Times

Peo­ple cel­e­brated in Ir­bil, Iraq, af­ter Kurds voted in fa­vor of in­de­pen­dence Mon­day. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad has taken a hard line against the ref­er­en­dum, clos­ing bor­ders and threat­en­ing to cut a vi­tal oil pipe­line.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.