Iraq deploys special forces in Kirkuk amid Kurdish flag dispute

Iraqi policemen march during a parade in Baghdad on January 10, 2019 to mark the graduation of 158 Iraqi policemen after a six-month training period. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019

Iraq deploys special forces in Kirkuk amid Kurdish flag dispute

  • In December Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan announced a deal to resume oil exports from Kirkuk

KIRKUK, Iraq: Iraqi special forces deployed Thursday in Kirkuk after the raising of the Kurdish flag over a political party headquarters revived tensions more than a year after Baghdad seized the disputed northern city.
Iraq’s counter-terrorism chief gave President Barham Saleh’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) until noon on Friday to lower the red, white, green and yellow flag of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Under Iraq’s constitution, multi-ethnic Kirkuk province is controlled by the central government in Baghdad.
Kirkuk is one of several regions that Kurdish peshmerga fighters took over in 2014 as jihadists from the Daesh group swept through much of northern and western Iraq.
Angered by an independence referendum held in the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan as well as in disputed border areas including Kirkuk, Baghdad deployed federal forces to retake the oil-rich province in 2017.
The vote saw more than 92 percent of Kurds back secession, but the federal government rejected the poll as “illegal,” imposed economic penalties and seized the disputed Kirkuk oil fields, halting exports.
In December Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan announced a deal to resume oil exports from Kirkuk.
Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, seen as a consensual figure who has settled disputes between Kurdistan and Baghdad in the past, appealed to Saleh after the flag was raised on Tuesday evening.
Abdel Mahdi spoke by telephone to the president, who was on a visit to Qatar, the premier’s office said.
Abdel Mahdi complained that flying the flag above party headquarters in Kirkuk is “a violation of the constitution.”
He suggested the matter be referred to the Supreme Court, which had ruled the independence referendum was illegal.


Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

Fadi Hidmi. (Supplied)
Updated 32 min 32 sec ago

Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

  • East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic

AMMAN: Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Fadi Hidmi was released by Israeli police on Friday afternoon after being arrested for the fourth time without charge.

Ministry spokesman Awad Awad told Arab News that Hidmi had been “warned” not to “move around” or “do any work in” Jerusalem in accordance with measures being taken to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Awad also claimed that Hidmi had been physically abused by the police, saying that the minister was “punched in the face and forced to wear a mask with blood on it.”

CCTV at Hidmi’s Mount of Olives house show that he was manhandled by Israeli police during his arrest in the early hours of Friday.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the arrest.

Rosenfeld told the Israeli press that Hidmi was arrested “on suspicion of Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.”

He said police searched Hidmi’s home and confiscated documents as well as “large sums of money. Israeli media said that the police had confiscated NIS10,000 ($2,750) found in the house.

Hidmi, a Jerusalem resident, was the director of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Industry before accepting his current job in the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government.

Before Hidmi’s release on Friday, Shtayyeh wrote on social media: “Israel targets who work for #Jerusalem, even at such critical moments as we work to save our people's lives from #COVID19.”

East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jamil Kousa, director of the St. Joseph hospital, told Palestine TV that he was only informed on March 25 that his hospital should be prepared to accept patients with COVID-19.

Ahmad Buderi, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Alliance — an organization launched to help combat COVID-19 — has said that people in the city are depending almost solely on local initiatives to deal with the pandemic.

Before his arrest, Hidmi launched the website madad.ps to coordinate the distribution of urgenly needed food and medical supplies to the city’s residents.

Walid Nammour, secretary-general of the Jerusalem Hospital Network, estimates that the city’s six hospitals need $7 million to to deal with the potential spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem.

Nammour told Arab News that 300-400 ventilators are needed and that only 26 are available at present.