Iraq court orders arrest of Kurd independence vote organizers

Kurdish people attend a rally to show their support for the upcoming September 25th independence referendum in Duhuk, Iraq on September 16, 2017. (File photo by Reuters)
Updated 12 October 2017
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Iraq court orders arrest of Kurd independence vote organizers

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi court on Wednesday ordered the arrest of senior Kurdish officials responsible for organizing an independence referendum, in the latest salvo by the central authorities over the disputed vote.
The decision ratchets up pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan just over two weeks after voters in the autonomous region overwhelmingly backed independence in the non-binding ballot slammed as illegal by Baghdad.
Acting on a request from the National Security Council headed by Iraq’s prime minister, a court in east Baghdad issued warrants against the chairman of the vote’s organizing commission Hendren Saleh and two other members, Supreme Judicial Council spokesman Abdel Sattar Bayraqdar told AFP.
It ruled that the three “organized the referendum in contravention of a ruling by the Iraqi supreme court,” which had found the vote unconstitutional and ordered it called off.
The supreme court ruling came one week before the September 25 referendum, but the organizers went ahead with it regardless.
In retaliation the central authorities have already severed ties between the region and the outside world by cutting international air links, while neighboring Turkey and Iran have threatened to close their borders to oil exports.
The court’s arrest order is part of a broader legal onslaught from the central government.
The National Security Council on Monday said “a list of names” of Kurdish officials who helped organized the referendum had been compiled and “judicial measures have been taken against them.”
Iraq has also launched a probe into Kurdistan’s lucrative oil revenues and pledged to expose “corrupt” officials in the region who might have illegally monopolized the market.
Baghdad — which has already demanded to take over Kurdistan’s airports and borders — is looking to reclaim control over mobile phone companies in the region, including two of the largest providers in Iraq.
The authorities also announced Tuesday that they are looking to reopen a key oil pipeline to Turkey that would rival a competing Kurdish export route.
The Iraqi pipeline was cut off after the Daesh group seized swathes of the country in 2014, halting a flow of oil to Turkey of up to 400,000 barrels a day.
The angry dispute over the referendum — also rejected by the United States — is the latest twist in the decades-long movement by Iraq’s Kurds to break away from Baghdad.
Iraq is pushing Turkey and Iran — which both opposed the ballot over fears of fueling demands from their own sizeable Kurdish communities — to close their border posts with Kurdistan and stop all trade with the region.
Washington warned the referendum could “increase instability” in the region and have an impact on the battle against Daesh, in which Kurdish fighters have been a key force.


White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

Keeping spirits alive Palestinian youths play with rollerblades by walls covered with graffiti at the sea port in Gaza City on Tuesday. AFP
Updated 2 min 56 sec ago
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White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

  • The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas
  • Jared Kushner’s team plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them

AMMAN: President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, kicked off a swing through the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Jordan’s king as part of a broader effort to lay the groundwork for an expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Kushner and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally.
A White House statement said the talks focused on US-Jordan cooperation, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the US efforts “to “facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
US officials have said their peace plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But it faces resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the US Embassy in Israel to the holy city last month. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, accuse the US of siding with Israel in the most sensitive issue of their decades-long conflict.
Kushner’s team also plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for an independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas militants seized control of the territory two years later.
The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas. The US, Israel and Western allies shun Hamas as a terrorist group. Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem. They also fear that aid to Gaza will help strengthen Hamas’ control over the territory.
Jordan also has a stake in east Jerusalem, serving as the custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines there. Jerusalem’s walled Old City, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967, is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
Abdullah has also rejected Trump’s moves in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to relinquish any part of the city.
Netanyahu traveled to Amman on Monday for a surprise meeting with Abdullah, telling the king that Israel remains committed to the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abdullah told Netanyahu that the fate of Jerusalem must be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that a solution should be based on establishing a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel captured in 1967.
Palestinian officials fear the Trump administration plan will leave them with a mini-state in the Gaza Strip, parts of the West Bank and a foothold in Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject any plan being floated by the Trump team, arguing that the US has forfeited its role as mediator because of decisions seen as pro-Israel.