First Published: 2012-11-16

 

New Iraq army HQ sends Arab-Kurd ties to new low

 

Kurds blast Baghdad’s formation of Dijla Operations Command in Kirkuk, Diyala seen as blow to expansion dream of Kurdistan.

 

Middle East Online

By Marwan Ibrahim - KIRKUK, Iraq

Maliki warned Kurdish peshmerga forces to "avoid provoking" Iraqi security forces

The formation of a new military headquarters covering disputed territory in northern Iraq has sent already-poor relations between Baghdad and its autonomous Kurdish region plummeting.

The new Tigris Operations Command, based in Kirkuk city and covering all of the province of the same name as well as neighbouring Salaheddin and Diyala, has drawn an angry response from Kurdish leaders who want to incorporate much of the area into their autonomous region.

The latest dispute strikes at the heart of an unresolved row between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government in Arbil over territory, oil and the interpretation of Iraq's federal constitution.

"The formation of the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command in Kirkuk and Diyala is an unconstitutional step by the Iraqi government," Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani, an opponent of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said in recent remarks.

"The intentions, aims, formation and actions of this command centre are against the Kurdish people, the political process, co-existence and the process of normalising the situation in the disputed areas."

Maliki, a Shiite Arab, responded by warning Kurdish peshmerga forces to "avoid provoking" Iraqi security forces.

"We call on peshmerga forces not to carry out any acts that arouse tensions and instability in those areas, and we advise them to stay away from government forces," said the statement, attributed to Maliki and referring to his position as commander in chief of Iraq's armed forces.

Kurdish leaders want to the expand their autonomous region across a swathe of territory that stretches from Iraq's eastern border with Iran to its western frontier with Syria, against the strong opposition of Maliki's government.

The unresolved row poses the biggest threat to Iraq's long-term stability, diplomats and officials say.

The central and regional governments are also embroiled in disputes over energy contracts awarded by Kurdistan that Baghdad regards as illegal, and a variety of other rows.

The Tigris Operations Command was set up on September 1 with its head Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi saying it was intended to address poor security coordination in the area that had allowed several violent attacks to occur.

Zaidi, also head of the army's 12th division, which covers Kirkuk and parts of Salaheddin, insisted to AFP that his forces were not entering Kirkuk city, an ethnic tinderbox of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen that is secured by the local police force.

But Kirkuk province's Kurdish governor Najim al-Din Omar Karim has refused to cooperate with the new command, arguing there was already sufficient coordination between existing institutions.

"I am the head of the (provincial) security committee, which includes commanders of the police, intelligence agencies, peshmerga, and the 12th brigade of the Iraqi army -- we already have major cooperation, we don't need a new operations command," he said.

"The Iraqi army must not intervene, we cannot accept the imposition of martial law on us."

US forces played a coordinating role between Kurdish and Arab forces in disputed territory, particularly in Kirkuk, forming joint patrols and checkpoints comprised of US soldiers, Iraqi soldiers and troops, and Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Most Iraqi policemen in Kirkuk are Kurdish, while the majority of Iraqi soldiers are Arab.

But since US forces withdrew last year, relations between Baghdad and Arbil have become increasingly bitter, with Barzani saying earlier this year he feared Maliki would use soon-to-be-delivered US-made F-16s to attack Kurdistan, and pushing to withdraw confidence from the premier's unity government.

Maliki insisted in an earlier statement that the new command centre did not target any specific group and that it was set up solely to fight terror.

Kurds, however, remain unconvinced.

"We respect and appreciate the Iraqi army, it belongs to all of us, but it must stay in the barracks and work for security at the border," Karim said.

 

New US law could sanction Hezbollah officials

ISIS-rebel clashes grip northeast Syria town

Hundreds of civilians flee Fallujah area in Iraq

Khamenei urges Iran lawmakers to resist Western 'schemes'

Turkey Muslims demand right to pray at Hagia Sophia

Iran delegation leaves Saudi Arabia without Hajj deal

Thousands of protesters gather in central Bagdad

99 lashes for partying Iranian students

100,000 Syrians trapped after shock IS advance in Aleppo

Iran sticking to nuclear deal: UN watchdog

Turkey party seeks constitutional change to boost president's powers

Turkey accuses US of 'hypocrisy' on Kurdish militia in Syria

Israel environment minister resigns from 'extremist government'

US-led coalition pounds IS near Raqa

Tunisia mulls allowing women to serve in army

US-backed fighters battle IS near Syria stronghold

Tunisia tourism sees 'slight recovery'

UN envoy calls for economic rescue plan for Yemen

Bahrain jails 19 for attacks on police

Up to 30 dead in shipwreck off Libya

UN says Syrians will 'starve' unless aid improves

Christian homes set ablaze in Egyptian village 'love story'

Kuwait's main opposition group ends polls boycott

Twin offensives on IS edge forward in Syria, Iraq

Private firms to help in hunt for Egyptair black boxes

New Israeli defence minister's tough talk to be put to the test

Syria most dangerous place for health workers

Concern for civilians trapped in Iraq's Fallujah

Brent rises past $50 a barrel

Iraq PM urges protesters to stay home

Juncker warns Ankara against migrant deal threats

Israeli air force carries out strikes on Hamas sites in Gaza

Annual Jewish pilgrimage starts in Tunisia

Sudan accuses UN official of 'false' reports on displaced

Egypt quashes prison sentences for 47 protesters

At least 5 drown off Libya coast

Coalition airstrike kills six Yemen civilians 'by mistake'

Erdogan chairs first meeting of new Turkey cabinet

Pope prays to 'convert hearts' of ISIS extremists

Egypt expels French journalist amid crackdown on media

Israeli rights group gives up on army complaints system

Hamas-led council backs executions without Abbas approval

Netanyahu forms ultra-nationalist Israel government

Major assaults target IS jihadists in Iraq, Syria

Yemen warring parties 'closer' to agreement