Iraq tensions rise after Kurds warn of attack

Kurdish peshmerga forces, show here voting in last month's independence referendum, are reported to have blocked roads from other parts of Iraq to the autonomous Kurdistan region. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2017
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Iraq tensions rise after Kurds warn of attack

IRBIL, Iraq: Tensions escalated between Iraq’s Kurds and Baghdad on Thursday as warnings of a “major attack” by government forces prompted Kurdish peshmerga fighters to temporarily block roads from other parts of the country.
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.


Turkey’s jailed pro-Kurdish candidate in first TV appearance for 20 months

Updated 17 June 2018
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Turkey’s jailed pro-Kurdish candidate in first TV appearance for 20 months

  • Selahattin Demirtas, who has been in detention for close to 20 months on security charges and faces a sentence of up to 142 years if convicted
  • One of Turkey’s best-known politicians, he has had to run his campaign mostly through social media

ANKARA: The jailed presidential candidate for Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition made his first television appearance in over a year and a half on Sunday, giving a campaign speech ahead of next week’s elections.
Selahattin Demirtas, who has been in detention for close to 20 months on security charges and faces a sentence of up to 142 years if convicted, was nominated by his Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as a candidate last month.
One of Turkey’s best-known politicians, he has had to run his campaign mostly through social media from his prison cell in the northwestern city of Edirne, while Turkish media have been saturated with coverage of President Tayyip Erdogan and his ministers.
Speaking on state broadcaster TRT in a scheduled 10-minute address, to which he is entitled under election law, Demirtas said voting for Erdogan and his ruling AK Party would mean putting the fate of the country “between one man’s two lips.”
“The only reason I am still here is that the AKP is scared of me. They think tying my hands here and going from square to square spreading accusations about me is being courageous,” a visibly thinner Demirtas said.
“They are openly violating the constitution by declaring me guilty even though there is no conviction ruling against me, and are trying to direct the public by misinforming them,” he said.
The snap parliamentary and presidential elections on Sunday will herald the switch to the new powerful executive presidency narrowly approved in a referendum last year.
In previous elections, Demirtas won votes beyond his core Kurdish constituency, and is likely to draw significant backing in the first round of the presidential vote, while boosting the prospects of his party entering parliament.
Demirtas’s HDP arranged a viewing of his speech in Istanbul’s Bakirkoy Square, where hundreds of supporters gathered to watch.
“You should have no doubt that I will be acquitted in front of the law as soon as possible. So long as the judicial authorities follow the superiority of the law and not the government’s expectations,” Demirtas said, as supporters cheered and waved flags.