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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid