Iraqi parliamentarians voted Wednesday to deploy the country’s security forces to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk to reclaim control of the oil-rich enclave from Kurdish control.
Approval of the parliamentary resolution demanding Iraqi troops be sent to Kirkuk came days after residents of the semi-autonomous Kurdish territory in the north overwhelmingly supported an independence referendum vote, which could lay the groundwork for an new Kurdish state.
“The government must bring back the oilfields of Kirkuk which are controlled by the ministry of oil,” the resolution states.
Kirkuk has been a major flashpoint in ongoing tensions between Irbil and Baghdad, since Kurdish peshmerga liberated the city from Islamic State control last year. After capturing Kirkuk from ISIS, KRG President Masoud Barzani said the city would remain under peshmerga protection indefinitely. That pronouncement effectively put one of Iraq’s top oil-producing territories under Irbil’s control.
The move is the latest in a string of actions taken by Baghdad in opposition to the Kurdish independence referendum, the first vote of its kind since the creation of Iraqi Kurdistan, officially known as the Kurdistan Regional Government or KRG. In the wake of Monday’s successful vote, Mr. Barzani has stated publicly it could take upwards of two years before Irbil can begin efforts to formally secede from Iraq.
Aside from Wednesday’s parliamentary resolution, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanded KRG leaders in Irbil hand over control of the country’s airports to Baghdad, or risk a overall ban on all air traffic in and out of the Kurdish territories. The move, says Mr. Abadi, is directly tied to Monday’s referendum vote, which Baghdad claims has further destabilized the already fractious state of Nineveh province, which encapsulates most of Iraqi Kurdistan.
KRG Transport Minister Mowlud Murad pushed back on Mr. Abadi’s demands Wednesday, saying that closing all air traffic into Iraqi Kurdistan would harm ongoing operations against Islamic State in Iraq. The international airport in Irbil doubles as a major air and logistics hub for U.S. and coalition forces battling ISIS in the country.
Washington, along with Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara have all voiced their opposition to the nonbinding referendum vote in Iraqi Kurdistan, with the White House claiming it would derail ongoing efforts to drive ISIS out of the country.
Critics continue to claim the move is a thinly veiled power grab by Mr. Barzani, who they argue is attempting to expand Kurdistan’s territorial borders outlined in the Iraqi constitution. The move would also solidify Mr. Barzani’s status as KRG’s leader, quashing any effort to usurp control by Iranian-backed Kurdish factions led by Jalal Talabani, and stem growing Iranian influence in northern Iraq.
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