News / Middle East

Iraqi Kurds Warn Baghdad While Moving Toward Independence Vote

A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces stands in a military vehicle in Jalawla, Diyala province, Iraq, July 3, 2014.
A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces stands in a military vehicle in Jalawla, Diyala province, Iraq, July 3, 2014.

Kurdish leaders cautioned Baghdad they will order their Peshmerga fighters to retaliate if Iraqi security forces launch any strikes on Kurdish-controlled territory.

The warning came after a weekend air raid on a town south of Kirkuk that left four people dead, including a 12-year-old child.

Tensions flared between semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and the central government following an announcement late last month by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani threatening to hold an independence vote, opening the door to a breakup of war-wracked Iraq.

The referendum is being planned by the Kurds, who have long dreamed of forming their own independent state, in the face of opposition from the Iraqi government, which says it would be unlawful, and despite the disapproval of the Obama administration.

Iraqi officials insist that Sunday’s air raid on Tuz Khurmatu, 80 kilometers south of Kirkuk, was an error.  They claim the army meant to strike a neighboring town occupied by jihadists who have been spearheading a Sunni insurgency in northern and western Iraq.

No going back

Tuz Khurmatu is not a Kurdish-majority town and is mostly Turkmen-populated but the Kurds now control it.  After of the outbreak of the uprising by Sunni militants, the Peshmerga expanded south and east beyond the official borders of Iraqi Kurdistan to occupy territory historically claimed by the Kurds, ostensibly to keep it falling into the hands of Sunni insurgents.

But Kurdish leaders have made no secret of their determination to keep hold of the so-called “disputed territories”, including the oil city of Kirkuk.  On June 28,  Barzani announced defiantly that there would be no going back on autonomous Kurdish rule of Kirkuk. Successive Iraqi governments have refused to allow a referendum on the fate of the city, as allowed for under Article 140 of the country’s constitution.

“We waited for 10 years for Baghdad to solve Article 140,” Barzani said. “Now its accomplished because the Iraqi army pulled out and our Peshmerga forces had to step in. So now the problem is solved. There will be more no more conversation about it.”

Kurds suspect that Sunday’s air raid was Baghdad’s way of conversing and dismiss the Iraqi claim that the airstrike was a mistake. Workers from one of the Kurds’ two dominant political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), say they suspect the warplanes were targeting their local office. Shalal Abdul, a town official, told the Kurdish news-site Rudaw that Peshmerga forces have repositioned themselves to be able to defend Tuz Khurmatu from either Sunni militants or the Iraqi army.

“The Peshmarga forces will not hesitate to retaliate against the next Iraqi assault on Kurdish positions,” said Jabar Yawar, the spokesman for the Peshmerga Ministry.

“This is the second time in less than a month that the Iraqi air force has targeted Kurdish Peshmarga bases and civilians,” he added in a press statement. In June, Iraqi army helicopters killed seven Peshmerga fighters and wounded 27 others during an attack near Saadiya in northern Diyala province.

Motivation

With anger mounting in Iraqi Kurdistan, Barzani accused the Shia-dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of implying that the Kurds are in league with Sunni militants in an effort to create turmoil and move toward independence. 

“They have launched a deceitful campaign against the Kurds and they are using state money for this kind of propaganda,” he said in an open letter to the Iraqi people.

Prime Minister al-Maliki recently argued on Iraqi television that the Kurds were “part of a plot to divide Iraq.”

The Obama administration has urged the Kurds not to seize on the Sunni insurgency as an opportunity to seek independence. In June Secretary of State John Kerry visited Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan,  and urged the Kurds to throw in their lot with Baghdad and assist Iraqi forces against the jihadist-led Sunni insurgency sweeping Iraq.

Kurdish leaders have been careful to hint that the departure of al-Maliki and the formation of an inclusive Iraqi government may make them rethink their breakaway plans. With the exception of Israel and neighboring Turkey, which has signed a 50-year gas deal with the Kurds, governments in the region have warned the Kurds not to secede.

On Sunday, Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was quoted by Egypt’s MENA news agency as saying it would be “the start of a catastrophic division of Iraq into smaller rival states.”

U.S. officials fear Kurdish secession will trigger wider sectarian fighting and fan the flames of regional conflict.

But with Iraq plunged into full-scale sectarian conflict, ordinary Kurds say they are becoming more determined to break free from the chaos and violence.

“Our time is now,” says 53-year-old Irbil stall-owner Salar.  “Look around you. Our city is doing well, why shouldn’t we want to break away?”

You May Like

China Announces Corruption Probe into Senior Ex-Leader

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, being probed for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid