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Iraqi Kurds postpone polls in face of crisis

Iraq's Kurdistan region's President Massoud Barzani. (Reuters)
IRBIL: Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday postponed presidential and legislative elections because of the current crisis with Baghdad, its electoral commission said.
The region’s Independent High Electoral Commission said it had “decided to suspend temporarily preparations for the elections set for Nov. 1 because of the current situation.”
Iraqi government forces announced Wednesday they had retaken from Kurdish fighters almost all the areas disputed between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region in response to a September independence vote.
The commission said it was down to the regional Parliament to set a new date for elections. It said it had not received any nominations for the presidential poll by the deadline.
Mohammad Tawfiq Rahim, a prominent rival of regional President Masoud Barzani, was the only candidate registered to run, but the commission ruled he had missed the deadline.
Longtime regional leader Barzani, the driving force behind the Sept. 25 independence vote that sparked the crisis with Baghdad, has repeatedly said he will not stand for another term.
Iraqi government forces said Wednesday they had retaken almost all the areas disputed between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region following a sweeping advance into oil-rich Kirkuk province.
Kurdish forces are now largely confined to their longstanding three-province autonomous region in the north.
The autonomous region’s vice president Kosrat Rasul called the setback “a new Anfal for Kurdistan,” a reference to the widespread deaths and destruction wrought by operations in 1987-1988 by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman of the government’s Joint Operations Command (JOC), hinted that federal forces could yet be deployed to the remaining pockets of disputed territory still in Kurdish hands. “It’s not a military operation but the redeployment of forces to all areas to enforce the law,” Rasool said.
The JOC said Wednesday that “security (had) been restored in parts of Kirkuk including the key Khabbaz and Bai Hassan North and South oil fields.”
The lost fields accounted for more than 400,000 of the 650,000 barrels per day that the autonomous Kurdish region used to export in defiance of Baghdad.
Their loss deals a huge blow to the region’s already dire finances and dreams of economic self-sufficiency.
Meanwhile, Saudi budget carrier flynas on Wednesday made the first commercial flight from Riyadh to Baghdad since 1990, as ties with neighboring Iraq show signs of improvement.
“Our first flight took off today from Riyadh to Baghdad,” the company wrote on Twitter, posting pictures of the cabin crew and passengers.
Tickets for the maiden flight were advertised for as low as $7 excluding taxes.  
Flights between Iraq and Saudi Arabia were suspended some 27 years ago in August 1990 after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered his troops into neighboring Kuwait.

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