Iraq ‘has no regrets’ about getting tough with Kurds

Kurdish women protest outside Irbil airport on Sept. 29 against the flight ban issued by the Iraqi federal government. (AP)
Updated 12 October 2017
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Iraq ‘has no regrets’ about getting tough with Kurds

BAGHDAD: Iraq issued arrest warrants on Wednesday for the chairman of the Kurdistan Region’s referendum commission and two aides over last month’s vote for Kurdish independence.
A spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council said the warrants for Hendreen Mohammed and his assistants were issued by a Baghdad court for “violating a valid court ruling which considered the independence vote invalid.”
A Justice Ministry official in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) dismissed the decision as “politically motivated.” He said the KRG’s judiciary was independent of Baghdad and did not recognize its legal rulings.
The Iraqi central government has taken punitive measures over the independence vote. It imposed an international flight ban, stopped financial transactions with the region, and filed formal requests to Turkey and Iran to stop trade with the KRG and deal exclusively with Baghdad on oil exports.
On Tuesday, the oil ministry ordered state oil companies to begin restoring the crude oil pipeline from Kirkuk to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey, bypassing Kurdistan. The pipeline has been out of commission since it was blown up by militants in 2014.
“The Iraqi government is serious … and has no regrets relative to its position,” Ali Al-Alaq, a Shiite member of parliament and one of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s political advisers, told Arab News.
“The government has become more assertive in dealing with many matters such as the financial violations, the smuggling of oil, airports, and the land border crossings.”
Baghdad sent special military units and federal Border Patrol officers to Turkey and Iran this month for deployment near the joint crossings. The three countries established a joint operations room to discuss related details; senior security officials have exchanged visits since the referendum took place. Iraqi officials said a senior Turkish official would visit Iraq today to discuss alternatives to the crossings.
“It is not easy for Turkey or Iran to shut down the crossings, despite the threats that the referendum represents to their national security,” a senior Iraqi federal official involved in talks told Arab News.
“The sessions are continuing and all sides are looking to find appropriate alternatives, so we can move to either shut down the crossings or regain control of them. We have to be pragmatic, and finding appropriate alternatives to these crossings needs time.”
Iraqi Kurdistan region has two official crossings with Turkey and Iran, Ebrahim Al-Khalil in Dehuk and Hajj Omran in Sulaimaniya. Kurdistan has refused to hand over control of the crossings, but the KRG has said nothing about creating new ones outside Kurdistan.
“There have been many attempts, but nothing so far but talks,” Lt. Gen. Jabar Yaour, general secretary of the Peshmerga Ministry in the KRG, told Arab News. “Opening new crossings needs a long time.
“Up to now, the crossing ports in Kurdistan are working and the export of oil has not stopped.”


Kurdish party nominates Iraqi veteran Barham Salih for next president

Updated 20 September 2018
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Kurdish party nominates Iraqi veteran Barham Salih for next president

  • Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the ruling Kurdish parties, selected Salih to take over from Fuad Masum
  • The nomination and election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government

BAGHDAD: Veteran Kurdish leader Barham Salih has been nominated to be the president of Iraq.

Iraq’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the ruling Kurdish parties, selected Salih to take over from Fuad Masum, Kurdish leaders told Arab News on Wednesday.

The nomination and election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government.

The elected president will then assign the candidate of the largest bloc to the post of prime minister, to form a government.

The rival Shiite-led blocs on Tuesday agreed to nominate Adel Abdul Mahdi, the former vice president, for the post of prime minister.

An initial deal was made by the two heads of the factions to dedicate the parliament session on Sept. 25 to elect the president and assign the nominated prime minister to form a government, negotiators told Arab News.

Salih, who was born in Sulaymaniyah in 1960, is a graduate of American universities and holds a PhD in statistics and data. He headed the Kurdistan Regional Government in 2001, and was one of the deputies of the federal government in 2006. He occupied many ministerial posts in Baghdad and Erbil in the last 15 years. 

“Barham is the sole nominee for the post of president,” Sa’adi Berah, the  PUK spokesman said on Wednesday. “PUK leaders have voted today on this decision after he (Barham) accepted all the conditions of the PUK.”

The relationship between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region dominated by the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK), the second ruling Kurdish party, has faltered since September last year when the Kurdistan regional government held an independence referendum.

Baghdad responded by launching a military campaign to push Kurdish forces out of disputed areas they had taken control of in the preceding years. This included the city of Kirkuk - one of Iraq’s main oil producing regions.

Salih, a secular politician, is a moderate and acceptable figure to all political parties and can play an active role in dismantling both the crisis between the Kurdish region and Baghdad, and disputes between the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish political parties inside the Iraqi capital, Shiite negotiators said.

The backing of the Shiite and Sunni parliamentary blocs in Baghdad for Salih’s nomination is crucial to him winning the post as the president needs two thirds of the votes of the 329 members of parliament to be approved.

“Initially we are happy to back Barham for the post as he is calm, pragmatic and has no problems with Arabs,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“We are waiting for them (PUK and DPK) to conclude their decision and officially present his name for us, then we can discuss the other details.”

The US envoy to Iraq and Syria, Brett McGurk, played a key role in restoring Salih to the PUK, which he had split  from in 2017 to form his own coalition. 

McGurk met with Hero Khan, secretary-general of the PUK and wife of the late Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, several times last week at her residence in Sulaymaniyah. 

Khan and her two sons have dominated the leadership council of the PUK since 2013 after Talabani fell ill. McGurk’s efforts were rewarded on Wednesday as Salih won 26 votes of the 40-member PUK leadership council, sources told Arab News.

The post of Iraq’s president falls to the Kurds as part of a power-sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political forces after 2003. 

Salih's candidacy must first be approved by the DPK.

“We have no objection to Barham's nomination for this post. The DPK does not look for this position,” Reibein Salam, a DPK leader told reporters.

“But we have made many concessions in favor of the Kurdish interest and we have to get something in return.

“We want the position of governor of Kirkuk in return. It is not reasonable that PUK gets both posts.”