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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs