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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs