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.”


Turkey’s Erdogan faces resurgent opposition in twin election test

Updated 24 June 2018
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Turkey’s Erdogan faces resurgent opposition in twin election test

  • Turks were voting Sunday in dual parliamentary and presidential polls seen as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s toughest election test, with the opposition revitalized and his popularity at risk from growing economic troubles
  • With all eyes on the transparency of the vote, polling stations opened at 0500 GMT and were due to close at 1400 GMT, with the first results expected late in the evening

ISTANBUL: Turks were voting Sunday in dual parliamentary and presidential polls seen as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s toughest election test, with the opposition revitalized and his popularity at risk from growing economic troubles.
Erdogan has overseen historic change in Turkey since his Islamic-rooted ruling party first came to power in 2002 after years of secular domination. But critics accuse the Turkish strongman, 64, of trampling on civil liberties and displaying autocratic behavior.
With all eyes on the transparency of the vote, polling stations opened at 0500 GMT and were due to close at 1400 GMT, with the first results expected late in the evening.
Over 56 million eligible voters are for the first time casting ballots simultaneously in the parliamentary and presidential elections, with Erdogan looking for a first round knockout and an overall majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
But both these goals are in doubt in the face of an energetic campaign by his rival from the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Ince, who has mobilized hundreds of thousands in mega rallies, and a strong opposition alliance in the legislative polls.
“I hope for the best for our nation,” said Ince as he cast his ballot in his native port town of Yalova south of Istanbul, vowing to spend the night at the headquarters of Turkey’s election authority in Ankara to ensure a fair count.
Erdogan remains the favorite to hold on to the presidency — even if he needs a second round on July 8 — but the outcome is likely to be much tighter than he expected when calling the snap polls one-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.
Analysts say the opposition’s performance is all the more troubling for the authorities given how the campaign has been slanted in favor of Erdogan, who has dominated media airtime.
“Even if the odds are on the incumbent’s side, the race is likely to be far tighter than many expected,” said Ilke Toygur, analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute and adjunct professor at University Carlos III in Madrid.
Anthony Skinner, head of MENA at Verisk Maplecroft, added: “Ince’s wit, audacity, ability to poke holes through Erdogan’s narrative and connect with Turks beyond the traditional base of his secularist CHP has flustered Erdogan and his team.”
The stakes in this election are particularly high as the new president will be the first to enjoy enhanced powers under a new constitution agreed in an April 2017 referendum strongly backed by Erdogan.
The president had for the last two years ruled under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the 2016 failed coup, with tens of thousands arrested in an unprecedented crackdown which cranked up tensions with the West.
Erdogan, whose mastery of political rhetoric is acknowledged even by critics, has won a dozen elections but is now fighting against the backdrop of increasing economic woes.
Inflation has zoomed well into double digits — with popular concern over sharp rises in staples like potatoes and onions — while the Turkish lira has lost some 25 percent in value against the US dollar this year.
“At each election, I come with hope. But this year I have a lot more faith, but we’ll see,” said voter Hulya Ozdemiral as she cast her ballot in Istanbul
The votes of Turkey’s Kurdish minority will be especially crucial in the parliamentary poll. If the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) wins seats by polling over the 10 percent minimum threshold, the AKP will struggle to keep its overall majority.
But in a situation labelled as blatant unfairness by activists, the HDP’s presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas has campaigned from a prison cell after his November 2016 arrest on charges of links to outlawed Kurdish militants.
After casting his ballot in his jail in the northwestern region of Edirne, Demirtas wrote on Twitter: “I wish that everyone uses their vote for the sake of the future and democracy of the country.”
The opposition has also alleged heavy bias in favor of Erdogan by state media, with news channel TRT Haber not showing a single second of Ince’s giant final Istanbul rally live.
Voting already closed last week for Turkish citizens resident abroad, with just under 1.5 million out of just over 3 million registered voters casting their ballot, a turnout of just under 49 percent.
Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens are responding to calls from the opposition to monitor the polls for a clean election and a delegation of observers from the OSCE will also be in place.
High security is in place across the country, with 38,480 police officers on duty in Istanbul alone. As is customary in Turkey on polling days, sales of alcohol in shops are also prohibited.