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Iraq ratchets up pressure on Kurdistan

October 11, 2017

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
Image: 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.

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
Image: 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)