A court in Baghdad has issued an arrest warrant for the vice president of Iraqi Kurdistan for allegedly calling Iraqi troops "occupying forces" in Kirkuk. Tensions have soared since last month's independence referendum.
Kosrat Rasul, third from right, attends the funeral of Kurdish former president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani
Iraq's Supreme Justice Council on Thursday ordered the arrest of Kurdistan Regional Government Vice President Kosrat Rasul on charges of "provocation" against Iraq's armed forces.
Rasul is accused of "insulting" the country's military — illegal under Iraqi law — by allegedly referring to their operation to take control of the disputed province of Kirkuk as an occupation.
"The court considers these comments as provocation against the armed forces, under Article 226 of the penal code," an offense which can carry a jail term of up to seven years or a fine, a judiciary spokesman said.
Iraqi forces entered the city of Kirkuk largely unopposed on Monday as part of a campaign to seize areas disputed with Kurdistan.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces had been in control of the oil-rich area since 2014, when they stepped in to defend it, after Iraq's army was driven back the rapid advance of "Islamic State" (IS) fighters.
The Iraqi army's security operation in Kirkuk came three weeks after Kurds voted overwhelmingly for an independent state in a referendum that the central government called unconstitutional.
Tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government have been mounting ever since.
Last week, the judiciary in the Iraqi capital also ordered the arrest of three senior Kurdish officials responsible for organizing the September 25 vote. However, the warrants are unlikely to be executed because the government in Baghdad has no enforceable authority in the Kurdish-administered north.
Loss of territory
The Peshmerga's withdrawal from Kirkuk province and its lucrative oil fields this week is likely to deprive the Kurdish regional government of a substantial revenue stream.
Iraqi troops have also taken over formerly Kurdish-held areas in the provinces of Nineveh and Diyala. On Thursday, they seized control of an oil complex near the northern city of Mosul after Kurdish forces pulled out, Iraqi military sources said.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said the army would redeploy to all areas it controlled before the rise of IS.
In a statement Thursday, the Kurdistan regional government said it welcomed a call by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi earlier in the week for both sides to hold talks to solve the crisis.
"It will not be possible to resolve the issues through military operations," the statement said.
"Kurdistan demands the help and contribution" of the international community in sponsoring this dialogue."
nm/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)