Iraq tensions rise after Kurds warn of attack
Iraq tensions rise after Kurds warn of attack
The move came just over two weeks after Kurdish voters overwhelmingly backed independence in a non-binding referendum the central government slammed as illegal.
Iraqi Kurdish forces closed the two main roads connecting Irbil and Dohuk with Mosul for several hours, a Kurdish military official said.
“The closure was prompted by fears of a possible attack by Iraqi forces on the disputed areas,” held by Kurdish forces but outside the autonomous Kurdish region, the official said.
Kurdish authorities said late Wednesday they feared Iraqi government forces and allied paramilitary units were gearing up to launch an assault on the autonomous northern region.
“We’re receiving dangerous messages that the Hashed Al-Shaabi (paramilitary forces) and federal police are preparing a major attack from the southwest of Kirkuk and north of Mosul against Kurdistan,” the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Security Council said.
But in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, which is disputed between the Kurds and Baghdad, a local commander told AFP there were no immediate signs of movement by Iraqi forces.
“We have seen no unacceptable movement on the part of Iraqi forces,” Wasta Rasul, the commander of peshmerga forces in southern Kirkuk, told AFP.
He said the peshmerga were in meetings with the US-led coalition that has intervened in Syria and Iraq against the Daesh group and that coalition aircraft “are monitoring the situation carefully.”
The coalition has worked with both peshmerga and Iraqi pro-government forces in the battle to oust IS from areas it seized in Iraq in mid-2014.
Tensions between Baghdad and Irbil have spiralled since last month’s Kurdish independence poll.
Security sources said Thursday that Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service and Rapid Response Force had deployed more forces near Rashad, a village some 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Kirkuk, near peshmerga positions.
The spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command refused to confirm or deny any preparations for an offensive against Kurdish forces, pointing instead to operations following last week’s retaking of the town of Hawija from IS.
“What I can say is that our forces in Hawija have accomplished their duty and have started to clear the region of explosives and restore the law in order to allow people to go home,” said the spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahiya Rassul.
Central authorities have severed ties between the Kurdish autonomous region and the outside world by cutting international air links.
Neighbouring Turkey and Iran, which fear that Iraqi Kurdish moves toward independence could fuel demands from their own sizeable Kurdish communities, have also threatened to close their borders to oil exports.
An Iraqi court on Wednesday ordered the arrest of senior Kurdish officials responsible for organizing the referendum, saying they had done so “in contravention of a ruling by the Iraqi supreme court.”
The warrant is likely to prove toothless as Baghdad’s security forces do not operate inside Kurdistan, but it could stop the officials leaving the region.
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.
Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts
- Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport
- Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the country
TRIPOLI: New clashes flared between rival militias south of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Tuesday, causing widespread power outages, the national electricity firm said.
The fighting underscored the fragility of a United Nations-backed cease-fire reached earlier this month after days of deadly violence between armed groups in the capital, beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport, according to witnesses including an AFP journalist.
Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the North African nation’s south and west.
Fighting which broke out late last month killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — before the cease-fire came into effect on September 4.
Last week, the capital’s only working airport came under rocket fire just days after reopening following the truce.
Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia which serves as Tripoli’s police force and has been involved in clashes around the capital.
Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said Monday that a “regular force” would be tasked with securing the airport.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame later reported 14 cease-fire violations around Tripoli, but sought to play them down, saying the deal had been “generally respected.”
Tripoli’s main airport has been out of action since it was severely damaged by similar clashes in 2014.
Since Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, oil-rich Libya has been rocked by violence between dozens of armed groups vying for control of its cities and vast oil resources.
A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 established the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a bid to ease the chaos.
But deep divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya and backs a competing authority.
The GNA last week announced a series of measures to secure the capital and curb the influence of militias over state institutions and banks.