Iraqi MPs vote against Kurdish referendum as Barzani visits Kirkuk

An Iraqi Kurdish man decorates a car with the Kurdish flag. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2017
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Iraqi MPs vote against Kurdish referendum as Barzani visits Kirkuk

JEDDAH: Tension over plans for an independence referendum this month in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq grew on Tuesday when Iraq’s Parliament voted against it.
The nonbinding referendum planned for Sept. 25 has faced strong opposition from Iran and Turkey, who fear it will stoke separatist aspirations among their own sizable Kurdish minorities.
Critics of the vote, including the US and the EU, and even members of the 5.5 million-strong Iraqi Kurdish population, say it could distract from the fight against Daesh.
Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces have played a key role in battling the terror group that captured swaths of the country in 2014.
Kurdish MPs walked out of Parliament after Tuesday’s vote, and the Kurdish Parliament said it would meet on Thursday, for the first time in two years, to hold its own vote on the issue.
Salim Al-Juburi, the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, said the vote required the Baghdad government to “take all steps to protect the unity of Iraq and open a serious dialogue.”
The federal Parliament “strives for the unity of Iraq and rejects its division for any reason,” Al-Juburi was quoted as saying by AFP. Parliament “has set what can be the subject of a referendum, and Kurdistan is not one of those cases.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and other top officials have said repeatedly that the referendum would violate Iraq’s constitution.
But the Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, who is organizing the referendum, said from the disputed city of Kirkuk that the vote would take place because all other efforts to secure Kurdish rights had have failed.
“This referendum would not necessarily lead to an immediate declaration of statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the people of Kurdistan about their future,” he said last year.
Other Kurdish leaders have said a “yes” vote would pave the way for the start of “serious negotiations” with the Baghdad government.
Former Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman criticized Tuesday’s vote, and said Parliament should be reducing tension and creating calm. “It shouldn’t encourage the government to create problems,” he told Arab News. “It should help in cooling down tensions.”
Instead, Othman said Tuesday’s vote would only exacerbate tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdish government. He said either of the two parties could and should have approached the high court. “There is a provision for this in the constitution. Either party could have petitioned the court seeking an answer to whether the referendum is legal or not, whether it is constitutional or not.”
He said Parliament had behaved in a “totally improper” way, which was “not at all wise.”
“All I know is that this will lead to more tensions,” he said. “They are just talking through the media, adding to the tensions.”
Othman said he believed that Al-Abadi, being a moderate, would want the issue to be resolved peacefully. “He prefers to solve things through dialogue.”
On the possible outcome of the referendum, Othman said: “A big majority of Kurdish people will go for independence, but we don’t know what happens after the referendum. There will be negotiations with Baghdad and that will take a long time.”
Barzani paid a visit on Tuesday to the oil-rich Kirkuk province.
He insisted that holding the referendum in Kirkuk is “entirely legal.”
“Kirkuk will remain as safe and secure as it is now, kept safe by the peshmerga,” Barzani said, referring to the Kurdish forces that control the city. “We will not compromise Kirkuk’s identity. We would rather give up our own rights than to compromise the rights of the ethnic minorities that live here.”


Israel shuts down cargo crossing into Gaza to punish Hamas

Updated 49 min 20 sec ago
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Israel shuts down cargo crossing into Gaza to punish Hamas

  • Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade in an attempt to weaken Hamas
  • Israel pounded Hamas targets on Saturday in its most massive bombardment since the 2014 war

JERUSALEM: Israel shut down its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in response to continued Hamas hostilities, even after it agreed to a cease-fire ending 24 hours of intense fighting.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel will cease transferring gas and fuel through the Kerem Shalom crossing until next Sunday but will allow food and essential medication to cross. He also said Israel was tightening its naval blockade to limit Palestinians from sailing beyond 3 nautical miles off the Gazan coast. Israel previously allowed sailing until 6 nautical miles.
Even after Hamas, Gaza’s militant rulers, agreed to a cease-fire late Saturday, incendiary kites and balloons have continued to float from Gaza into Israel setting off damaging fires to farmlands.
Israel pounded Hamas targets on Saturday in its most massive bombardment since the 2014 war, while militants fired dozens of rockets toward Israel that halted daily life in the area. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home in Sderot.
Israel says it has no interest is engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the Gaza militant campaign of flying incendiary kites and balloons across the border that have ignited fires damaging Israeli farms and nature reserves. On Sunday, Israel says it discovered a falcon to which Gaza militant tied an incendiary device meant to set fires. It appeared to be the first case of Gaza militant using animals to attack Israel.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade in an attempt to weaken Hamas. The blockade has caused widespread economic hardship. Israel says the naval blockade is necessary to protect its citizens from weapon smuggling.
The weekend’s violence came after months of near-weekly border demonstrations organized by Hamas aimed in part to protest the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began on March 30.
Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli civilians and soldiers.