Kurdistan accuses Baghdad of planning oil field seizure

Kurdistan accuses Baghdad of planning oil field seizure
Kurdistan authorities have accused the central Iraqi government of planning to seize oil fields in the autonomous region. Baghdad is amassing military power in two areas south of Kirkuk – the center of the oil-rich region that is formally part of Iraq but de facto controlled by the Kurdish government.

The AFP separately quoted an Iraqi general who confirmed the information, saying “Iraqi armed force are advancing to retake their military positions that were taken over during the events of June 2014.” In 2014, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces took over Kirkuk, driving IS out. Since the, the multiethnic city has been the subject of an ongoing dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad.

The latest news reports from Iraq say that Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi first denied there was a government plan in progress to retake the oil fields around Kirkuk, and then ordered a halt to the advance of Iraqi troops towards the northern Iraqi city.

According to the Kurdistan Regional Security Council, there are Iraqi army forces as well as Popular Mobilization Forces units near Kirkuk deploying tanks and heavy artillery in an area populated predominantly by Shia Turkmens. The PMF is a paramilitary organization, trained by Iran.

This is the latest spike in internal tensions in OPEC’s number-two oil exporter that follows the Kurds’ vote for independence from Baghdad. The central Iraqi government has made no secret of its opposition to Kurdish independence and it has had the support of Turkey and Iran.

Immediately after the independence referendum, Baghdad closed all international air traffic to and from the autonomous region, and later began talks with Turkey to revive an old oil pipeline between the two countries that bypasses Kurdistan.

Read more on Oilprice.com: Busting The Lithium Bubble Myth

Now it seems Baghdad has escalated the pressure as the Kurds refuse to cancel the results of their referendum and seem intent on getting their independence whether the rest of the region likes it or not.

Kirkuk and the oil fields around it, however, are vital for the autonomous region. They also represent a substantial portion of Iraq’s oil wealth, which it is naturally unwilling to surrender to the Kurds. Baghdad has repeatedly called on Erbil to relinquish control of Kirkuk to the federal government.

This article was originally published on Oilprice.com

Courtesy: RT

Iraq ratchets up pressure on Kurdistan after independence vote

Iraq’s central government has increased legal and economic pressure on Kurdistan following an independence vote. The Kurds now find themselves pinned in on all sides.

A person smiling and holding a banner that reads Kurdistan at a rally (picture-alliance/Zumapress/B. Feher)

An Iraqi court on Wednesday issued arrest warrants for members of the Kurdish election commission that organized an independence referendum last month.

The court decision was made on the request of the National Security Council headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi after the Kurds went ahead with the referendum despite the constitutional court ruling it illegal.

The nonbinding referendum held on September 25 passed with more than 90 percent support among Kurds, who govern an autonomous region in northern Iraq.

Read: Opinion: Kurds find few friends in independence referendum

It is unclear if the Iraqi central government will be able to act on the arrest warrants since the Kurdish region has its own security forces.

The move is the latest salvo from Baghdad as it tightens its grip on the Kurdistan region.

Watch video03:32

Iraqi Kurds vote ‘yes’ to independence: Jaafar Abdul Karim from Sulaymaniyah (Iraqi Kurdistan)

Iraq has already banned international flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraq targets oil, trade

Baghdad has also requested Turkey and Iran, both major trading partners of the Kurdish region who opposed the referendum, to close their borders and allow oil exports only through the central government.

Fearing Kurdish separatism within their own borders, Turkey and Iran have threatened to close their borders and have coordinated with Baghdad.

Such a move would hit the finances of the Kurdish region, which relies on the border trade and oil exports independent of the central government.

On Monday, the central government ordered Iraq’s two largest cell-phone operators based in the Kurdish region to move their headquarters to Baghdad.

On Tuesday, Iraq’s oil minister announced the country would resume exports of 400,000 barrels of oil through the central government-owned Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which runs from the oil-rich city through Kurdish territory and onto the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Irak Ölfelder in Kirkuk (Getty Images/AFP/K. Sahib)

The aging pipeline is in disrepair and was shut after the “Islamic State” overran large swaths of Iraq before an offensive pushed the terror outfit back.

In announcing the intent to resume oil exports through Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, the National Security Council also said it would identify “corrupt” Kurdish officials and recover lost funds.

The central government and Kurdish region have a long-running dispute over oil exports, extraction and sharing oil revenues.

The oil-rich, multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk is at the center of territorial disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdish region.

Iraqi officials have warned a unilateral Kurdish power grab in the city could ignite a civil war.

cw/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Iraq imposes flight ban on Kurdish airports in response to independence referendum

An overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in Monday’s referendum. But the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is cracking down on Kurdish leaders in a bid to force them to annul that decision.

Irak Erbil International Airport in irakische Kurdistan (picture-alliance/dpa/Sputnik/V. Sergeev)

An international flight ban enacted by the central Iraqi government against cities in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region came into effect Friday evening amid rising tensions following Monday’s controversial vote for Kurdish independence.

The ban took effect at 6 p.m. local time (1600 UTC) and covers all international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital city, Irbil, and its second-largest city, Sulaimaniya. Domestic flights will continue as normal, the Iraqi ministry of transport said today.

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-AbadiIraqi prime minister al-Abadi had warned that Iraq would impose the ban if Kurdish leaders did not hand over control of local airports to Iraqi authorities

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had announced on Wednesday that his government would institute the ban within three days if leaders from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) did not hand over control of local airports to Iraqi authorities.

The KRG refused to meet that demand and has criticized Baghdad for pursuing “unlawful” measures that amount to “collective punishment.”

“The Irbil and Sulaimaniya airports belong to Kurdistan,” KRG Transport Minister Mawlood Bawa Murad said Wednesday. “The demand of the Iraqi government to hand over airports is inappropriate and incorrect.”

Read more: Iraq warns Kurds as they claim victory in independence vote

KRG leader Massud Barzani had called on the central government to join negotiations about Kurdistan’s future after more than 90 percent of Kurdish voters opted for secession on Monday. Baghdad should “not to close the door to dialogue because it is dialogue that will solve problems,” Barzani said Tuesday.

Most regional and several international carriers have said they will halt flights to the region. Well-known airlines Egypt Air, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, and Austrian Airlines have all announced flight cancellations.

Speaker of the IKRG Independent High Election and Referendum Commission Hindirin Mohammed declares Kurdish independence referendum results.The Kurdish electoral commission said over 90 percent of voters opted for independence in Monday’s referendum.

No oil, few friends

The KRG has found itself increasingly isolated as Baghdad and other neighboring countries with large Kurdish populations have pressed for the referendum result to be annulled.

Turkey said Thursday that it would start dealing exclusively with Baghdad on oil sales. The KRG could lose up to 80 percent of revenue if Turkey decides to halt imports of Iraqi oil via a pipeline that runs through Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said however that Ankara would only institute targeted oil sanctions against individuals responsible for holding the referendum to avoid impacting civilians in the region. He did not give further details on how the sanctions would spare civilians.

Turkey is home to the largest Kurdish population in the region and Ankara fears that Monday’s vote may bolster Turkish Kurds’ calls for independence. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that any move toward independence would risk an “ethnic war.”

Read more: Opinion: Kurds find few friends in independence referendum

Both Turkey and Baghdad have signaled a willingness to intervene militarily in the KRG if Kurdish leaders do not back down.

Infografik Karte Kurdische Siedlungsgebiete ENG

On Wednesday, the Iraqi parliament asked Prime Minister al-Abadi to use the Iraqi army to retake the oil fields in Kirkuk, an area that the KRG has only controlled since 2014, but that it included in the independence referendum.

The prime minister has so far held off sending troops into the area. However, the Iraqi military has conducted joint military drills with Turkey along the Iraqi Kurdistan border and Baghdad has said it also sent a delegation to Iran, which also opposes Kurdish independence, “to coordinate military efforts.”

Turkey and Iran have also reportedly conducted joint military exercises along their respective borders with the KRG.

The US, the European Union, and the United Nations have all criticized the referendum, saying it risks destabilizing an already volatile region.

Read more: The Middle East’s complex Kurdish landscape

amp/kms (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

Watch video02:04

Kurdish independence vote sparks backlash

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Opinion: Kurds find few friends in independence referendum

The Kurds have every right to declare independence. However, the referendum only makes the situation in the Middle East that much more volatile. All sides need to stand down, writes Matthias von Hein.

Kurdish independence referendum poster (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Vinogradov)

There is an expression that the mountains are the Kurds’ only friends. Their recent referendum on independence, in which the Kurds overwhelmingly voted yes, seems to have pitted them against a world that has never done much for them. Israel has been the only country to support their independence. Elsewhere, the move has been met with concern and criticism.

Those closest to Kurdistan have been the most blatantly threatening. From the north, Turkey has sent tanks to the border. From the east, Iran has sent troops. To the south, Iraq’s central government has mobilized its own forces and Shiite militias. It seems that the region is determined to maintain the borders created by colonial France and England after the First World War, which divided up the crumbling Ottoman Empire without regard to local population differences.

A stateless nation

Back then the Kurds came away empty handed, despite promises to the contrary. Self-governance is a cornerstone of international law; it is enshrined in the UN Charter. However, for the estimated 40 million Kurds – the largest group of people without a state to call its own – those are just empty words. It is no wonder that Kurds hold little regard for the territorial integrity of Iraq. They have been oppressed there for decades, often driven out and murdered by the thousands with chemical weapons.

von Hein Matthias Kommentarbild AppDW’s Matthias von Hein

It is a good time for the Kurds, historically speaking: They have won the world’s praise for their front-line fight against the barbaric “Islamic State” – and have been outfitted with modern weapons to that end. Iraq’s central government is weak. Turkey is divided following last year’s failed coup and has become the target of Western ire. Syria’s opinion with relation to the Kurds has little impact in the region these days. Their referendum is a reflection of their own strengths and desire for independence as much as it is the crisis in Iraq and chaos in the wider region.

Nonetheless, it is possible that Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, has overplayed his hand. He pushed for the referendum largely for domestic reasons: To strengthen his own position and that of his party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Barzani rules like a dictator and has lacked democratic legitimacy for years, which has made him a controversial figure in Kurdistan. It is possible he underestimated his people’s desire for independence as much as he has regional opposition.

Independence not guaranteed

To prevent the regional powder keg from exploding, all those involved should note that the referendum is not legally binding. The Kurdish regional government has said that the referendum result would not lead to automatic independence. Barzani could rebrand the vote as a mere opinion poll. In return, Baghdad, Ankara and Tehran should quickly tone down their rhetoric and pull back their forces. The more the referendum is understood as a non-binding survey, the better.

The truth is that the Kurdistan Region already has all the trappings of independence: The Kurds have their own administration, military, textbooks and control over their borders. For the moment, de-escalation may take precedence over true independence and the Kurds’ right to self-determination. At some point, however, the Kurdish question will emerge again, whenever peace in Syria is seriously pursued. So long as that question remains unanswered, there can be no peace for the wider region.

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In Iraq, minorities pin hopes on a Kurdish state

Iraqi minorities have been voting for an independent Kurdish state in a bid for stability and peace. A Kurdish passport and nationality could improve their situation, they believe. Judit Neurink reports from Irbil, Iraq.

Irbil in Iraq

Disappointment with the Iraqi government and loyalty to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which took them in when the terror group “Islamic State” deprived them of their homes and livelihoods, has led many Iraqi minorities to support the Kurdish push for independence. When the Kurds voted on Monday on secession from Iraq, they included not only the minorities in their own region, but also those in the lands beyond it which they are claiming for their new state.

Read more: What is the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum?

“This is now our community,” says Inaam Tomea, 45, showing her blue inked finger after voting. She is from the Christian city of Qaraqosh, on the Nineveh Plains, which IS took over in August 2014 and which the Kurdistan Region wants to be part of its future state. Most of its inhabitants fled to Kurdistan and to camps set up in Ainkawa, the Christian enclave of the Kurdish capital, Irbil.

Watch video02:01

Iraqi Kurds vote in independence referendum

A polling station was set up in one of them, Ashti-2, where the internally displaced can vote if their Iraqi ID shows that they are from what the Kurds call ‘Kurdistani’ areas. These are lands that both the Kurds and Baghdad want to control whose status should, according to the Iraqi constitution, have been settled 10 years ago. The fact that the referendum included these disputed territories — areas where Christian, Shabak, Turkmen and Yazidi minorities live — is a main reason for Iraqi and international anger about the vote.

Around 100,000 Christians have spent the last three years in camps and rented houses in Ainkawa, and Tomea is one of them. Because of the welcome they received, she admits: “We feel obliged to vote.” Samira Dadoo, 51, — who, like Tomea, voted ‘yes’ — explains: “The Kurds have been good to us over the past three years.”

Almost a year after the Christian towns were recaptured from IS, the caravans of Ashti-2 are finally emptying. The schools have reopened back home, and families are moving there, after cleaning and repairing their damaged and often burnt-out houses. But there is still fear. “We are afraid to go back,” Dadoo says. “What will it be like in the years to come? Will the same scenario repeat itself? Will there be another IS?”

Read more: The Middle East’s complex Kurdish landscape

Both women hope that an independent Kurdistan can bring them stability and peace. And even though they are moving back, they would prefer to stay: “It is better here,” says Dadoo. “We lost hope there.”

Fears of a backlash

While a large majority of Kurds and minorities voted, the referendum has met with hostile reactions from Iraq’s neighbors and Baghdad, plus threats of military action in the disputed areas and economic sanctions that could bring hardship to the landlocked Region. After voting, four young people originally from the Christian city of Bartella admit they are scared by the reports about threats they see on social media. Although he voted ‘yes’, one of them predicts that nothing — including independence — will really happen: “They won’t allow it, and we will be hit by high prices.”

A map showing where Kurds live in the Middle East

First-time voter Hanin Hamid, 20, puts on a brave face. “I have to trust the Kurds to protect me,” she says, admitting that it was because the Kurdish peshmerga forces withdrew from their towns that IS was able to take over in 2014. “I hope they will not forsake us again. I am giving them another chance.”

When asked if she is looking forward to having a Kurdish passport and nationality, she pauses, then smiles. “Yes, our situation under Kurdish rule will be much better than it is as part of Iraq.” Her resistance to the Iraqi government, which is led by Shiites and closely linked to Iran, is echoed by other minorities.

These include the Shabak, a small ethno-religious group in the north of Iraq to which the brothers Omar and Abdelamir Haider belong. They are from Telkef, near Iraq’s second city Mosul. Both are truck drivers and they find the prospect of a better standard of living just as important as the security and peace they expect from the new state. “Our case is like that of the Kurds; the Iraqi government did nothing for us,” says Omar. His brother adds: “Since Saddam, we have been persecuted. Even before IS came, we had no rights in Mosul.”

Communities split

For some minorities, like the Christians, one reason for their support of Kurdistan is the expectation that the new state will grant them their own governorate, a dream shared by many since the violence in Iraq spiraled after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Kak Yousef, a Christian communist living in the Ainkawa enclave, explains: “This is the way to get our own province within Kurdistan, so there will be no more discrimination. We have to do it!”

A sign in front of a polling station underlines than weapons are prohibitedNo guns or knives were allowed at voting stations

Yet some Christian organizations, mainly of Iraqi Christians in the West, are passionately opposed to this option. They only want a Christian province within Iraq, while some of those living in Ainkawa don’t want a province at all; they want just to be part of Kurdistan. The issue has split the Christian community in Iraq. Kak Yousif believes those who do not want to be part of a Kurdish state feel that way because of bad experiences in the past. “They are disappointed, as they could not reach an understanding about their rights. They do not believe the Kurds will really give them their province.”

There is resistance to the Kurdish push for independence from Turkmen organizations, too, mostly in the disputed city of Kirkuk. They passionately oppose it, claiming the oil-rich city as Turkmen. Some also want their own region, though this would include land that is already part of the Kurdistan Region or disputed territories.

The Yazidi minority — seen by many as the original Kurds before the arrival of Islam in the area — is just as split as the Christian community, with many Yazidi who settled in recent decades in what would become the Kurdistan Region supporting the Region’s ruling KDP and PUK parties. But most of the over 50,000 Yazidis who fled the disputed province of Sinjar when IS came in August 2014 are angry that the Kurds did not protect them then, allowing IS to kidnap and kill thousands of their brethren.

Voters queued in the Christian Ashti-2 campThousands of IDPs from disputed areas were able to vote in a school in the Christian Ashti-2 camp

Since then, they have been living in camps in the Kurdistan Region. Many of them, fearing that the referendum would lead to war between the Iraqis and the Kurds, have left for Sinjar in recent weeks, even though the region has still to be cleared of explosives and is considered politically volatile. Some who stayed but supported a ‘no’ vote have reported being intimidated into voting ‘yes’ with threats of eviction from the camps.

The Yazidis are as split over whether their province should become part of a Kurdish state as the Christians, even though they too have been the recipients of Kurdish hospitality in recent years. The official discourse of the Kurdish government is that it welcomes all minorities, and that it wants to take over the role of their protector — a role Iraq played before the explosion of sectarian violence. While many are ready to place their fate in Kurdish hands, others have been disappointed too often in the past to be willing or able to trust in this promise now.

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Peshmerga accused of razing Arab villages in Iraq

A leading human rights group has accused Kurdish forces of razing entire Arab villages in Iraq’s north. The Kurdistan Regional Government says it’s investigating the allegations.

Irak Baschiqa Kämpfe Peschmerga (Reuters/A. Lashkari)

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Germany resumes weapons shipments to Iraqi Kurds

Security forces from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) destroyed Arab homes and villages in northern Iraq over the past two years in what may amount to a war crime, Human Rights Watch said Sunday.

“In village after village in Kirkuk and Nineveh, KRG security forces destroyed Arab homes – but not those belonging to Kurds – for no legitimate military purpose,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of the rights group. “KRG leaders’ political goals don’t justify demolishing homes illegally.”

The New York-based group said in a report that violations between September 2014 and May 2016 in 21 towns and villages within disputed areas of Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces had followed “a pattern of apparently unlawful demolitions.”

HRW called on Washington and other members of the international anti-IS coalition to pressure the Kurdish authorities to end the demolitions.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters are part of a 100,000-strong Iraqi alliance, backed by a US-led air campaign and supplied with German arms, that is battling to retake Mosul from the self-styled “Islamic State.”

 

Promised investigation

Satellite imagery provided evidence of destruction in another 62 villages after Kurdish forces recaptured them, but researchers said the lack of available witness testimony precluded “definitive conclusions” in those cases.

Officials in the Kurdish region have stated their intention to absorb land recovered from “Islamic State” into their autonomous region and prevent Arab residents from returning to areas “Arabized” decades ago by Saddam Hussein. That’s leading to inevitable conflict between Kurdish leaders and the Iraqi federal government, who are both part of the anti-IS coalition but whose historical disputes complicate the fractious alliance.

The rights group said it had presented its findings to the Kurdistan Regional Government, which announced an investigation and responded to some, but not all allegations. Kurdish authorities further claimed that much of the destruction was caused by US-led airstrikes as well as artillery fire and structures booby-trapped with explosives by retreating Islamist militants.

Some of the conclusions in the Human Rights Watch report are corroborated by a separate investigation by the Reuters news agency, which alleged that Iraq’s ethnic Kurds were using the battle against “Islamic State” to settle old disputes and grab land in the ethnically mixed territory that divides the Kurdish autonomous region from the Arab-majority south.

jar/tj (Reuters, AFP)

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Turkey coup aftermath: Pro-Kurdish Istanbul protests broken up

  • 5 November 2016
  • From the sectionEurope
Media captionDemonstrators dispersed as they were hit by freezing water

Turkish police have used water cannon and tear gas to break up a protest in Istanbul against the arrest of leaders of the pro-Kurdish HDP party.

Demonstrators assembled outside a mosque in the Sisli district and shouted slogans denouncing the “fascist” state before scattering as they were sprayed with freezing water.

Nine HDP figures, including its co-leaders, were jailed on Friday.

Journalists from the pro-opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper are also in jail.

Nine journalists were arrested on Saturday and remanded in custody by a court in Istanbul.

Cumhuriyet’s editor, a well-known cartoonist, and an anti-government columnist were among those detained.

It is the latest in a string of legal moves against critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since July’s attempted coup.

On top of the nine HDP detentions on Friday, a further nine party officials, including regional heads from the south-eastern province of Adana, were taken into custody on Saturday.

The Cumhuriyet newspaper is one of the few Turkish media outlets which remains critical of Mr Erdogan.

Policeman outside Cumhuriyet office in Istanbul (5 November)Image copyrightTOLGA BOZOGLU
Image captionA placard outside the newspaper’s Istanbul office read, “Long live Cumhuriyet”

Its journalists have been charged with links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of plotting the coup attempt.

On the night of 15 July, rebel soldiers used military hardware including tanks and fighter jets to try to seize control.

Since the coup attempt, a total of about 110,000 people, mainly state employees, have been sacked or suspended and 37,000 arrested.

Both the Cumhuriyet journalists and HDP politicians will be held in jail until trial. No date has been set for either hearing.

Cumhuriyet was one of four winners of the “alternative Nobel Prize” in October, alongside Syria’s White Helmets and others., awarded for “fearless investigative journalism and commitment to freedom of expression in the face of oppression, censorship, imprisonment and death threats.”

Friday’s arrests coincided with a bomb blast in the Kurdish-dominated city of Diyarbakir in the south-east which killed 11 people and injured dozens more.

Damaged building in Turkey's Diyarbakir after a bomb blast on 4 November 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionA building damaged in the Diyarbakir attack

Confusion remained on Saturday as to who carried out the attack.

The governor’s office in Diyarbakir said that the Kurdish militant PKK, which has conducted a campaign of violence for Kurdish autonomy, was behind the blast. It based this on what it said were intercepted communications.

But on Friday, so-called Islamic State (IS) said, via its Amaq news agency, that it was behind the attack.

‘Opponents silenced’

President Erdogan currently holds emergency powers in the aftermath of the failed July coup.

They allow the president and his cabinet to bypass parliament when drafting new laws and to restrict or suspend rights and freedoms.

Critics claim he is using those powers to silence opponents. At the beginning of November, 15 media outlets were closed and 10,000 civil servants were dismissed.

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