Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cold War Between Baghdad and Kurds Turns Hot

Yesterday, September 27, Iraqi police and Kurdish forces got into a shoot out in the town of Jalawlaa in the Khanaqin district of Diyala province. There are two versions of what happened. According to Iraqi forces, a unit of the Emergency Police raided the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters in Jalawlaa and arrested two members. According to UPI, the target was the Kurdish intelligence agency the Asayesh. (2) Kurdish officials then went to the Emergency Police Unit’s offices to demand the release of the two Kurds, but that resulted in a shootout that left a policeman and a member of the KDP dead, and two officers wounded. The other version comes from the Peshmerga (3) who claim that two Arab policemen stopped three members of the Asayesh in a market. When they refused to show their identity cards they were arrested and taken to a police station. A member of the KDP went there to demand their release. He was successful, but as they were exiting, police began shooting at them, killing one of the Asayesh officers. A police official said the police who opened fire were being investigated.

The Khanaqin district has been the scene of growing conflict between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). On August 11, 2008 Iraqi forces reached the outskirts of Khanaqin as part of Operation Omens of Prosperity. (4) They entered the towns of Qara Taba, Saidyah, and Khanaqin and demanded that the Kurdish Peshmerga militia withdraw within 24 hours and that all government buildings be evacuated. The Kurds refused at first, but after high level negotiations, agreed to pull their forces out of Qara Taba and Jalawlaa, but not Khanaqin. The security forces immediately broke that deal by moving into Khanaqin on August 24. The Kurdish parties organized demonstrations against the Iraqi forces and refused to leave. By the end of the month, another round of negotiations led to both the army and Peshmerga to withdraw leaving the Kurds still in political control of the area. By September 9 however, a Baghdad spokesman denied that any deal had been signed. (5) On September 18, the Iraqi army again announced that the Peshmerga had to pull out of Jalawaaa. (6) Three days later it appeared the Kurds had agreed when they announced that they would evacuate government owned buildings. (7) All that has gone up in smoke with yesterday’s shootout.

Although the Kurds represent one of the foundations of Prime Minister Maliki’s ruling coalition, the two sides have been disagreeing more and more. The most prominent was when the Kurds vetoed the provincial election law in July 2008. The Kurds also occupy 300 square miles of territory outside of Kurdistan, which they wish to annex. (8) The Khanaqin district is one of those. There was no security situation to speak of there when the Iraqi forces moved into the area in August. Maliki’s action was an attempt to pressure the Kurds and assert the central government’s control over all sections of the country. The Prime Minister must have been pleased to have so many high level Kurds come to his office, including Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, to work out a deal over Khanaqin. The arguments between the two sides were heated, but stayed verbal. Yesterday’s incident was the first time they turned violent, and obviously threatens all the talks over the future of the area and Maliki’s power play. Already Kurdish President Barzani (9) and the speaker of the Kurdish Assembly (10) have begun talking about conspiracies against the Kurds and the return of Baathism to Baghdad. This shootout will only lead to the growing paranoia of Kurdish leaders, and will probably make working with them even harder.

For more on the Khanaqin dispute see:

Deal Struck To Defuse Khanaqin Issue

Khanaqin Deal Off

Kurdish-Baghdad Tensions Over Diyala Grow

The Kurds Come Out Swinging

Maliki Ups the Ante in Khanaqin District of Diyala

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Man dies as Iraqi forces raid Kurdish peshmerga post,” 9/27/08

Gera, Vanessa, “Iraq: Kurdish politician killed in disputed region,” Associated Press, 9/27/08

Al-Ily, Naseer and Aziz, Hewa, “The Baghdad-Arbil Crisis Escalates,” Asharq Alawsat, 9/12/08

Middle East Online, “Iraqi forces raid Kurdish peshmerga post,” 9/27/08

Muhammed, Ako, “Kurds and their Iraqi allies see differences,” Kurdish Globe, 9/11/08

Paley, Amit, “Strip of Iraq ‘on the Verge of Exploding,’” Washington Post, 9/13/08

Press TV, “Iraq army sets deadline for Kurds,” 9/18/08

Russo, Claire, “The Maliki Government Confronts Diyala,” Institute for the Study of War,” 9/23/08

Voices of Iraq, “2 killed in clashes between policemen, Kurdish party supporters in Jalawlaa,” 9/27/08
- “Consensus solution about Khanaqin achieved – lawmaker,” 9/16/08
- “Kurdish parties to flee offices in Diala,” 9/21/08
- “No deal struck between central gov’t, Kurds over Khanaqin-spokesman,” 9/5/08

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