The province of Kirkuk was surprised with a visit by Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, to inspect Peshmerga forces mobilized in the province.
The visit has renewed the dispute between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), after both parties had agreed to withdraw forces from the area and entrust local troops with maintaining security.
The State of Law Coalition — headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — felt that the visit was a provocative step.
Yesterday afternoon [Dec. 10], Barzani inspected Peshmerga forces deployed on the northern border of Kirkuk, but did not enter the disputed area. His visit came two days after his son Mansour inspected the troops.
On the sidelines of the visit, Barzani told a number of Peshmerga members, “You are doing a sacred job these days, because you are defending the future of Kurdistan’s people, who have made great sacrifices to see this day.”
He explained, “Since the 1991 uprising and the liberation of most areas within the Kurdistan region, the Peshmerga forces have never had any bad interactions with the Iraqi army [...] The Kurds assumed a significant role in establishing a new government in Iraq after 2003.”
He emphasized that “accepting Article 140 does not indicate that there are doubts about the Kurdish identity of Kirkuk and other disputed areas, but rather to address problems according to the constitution. Unfortunately, some parties avoid adhering to the constitution.”
Saad al-Motallebi, member of the State of Law Coalition who is close to the Iraqi PM, said that “Barzani's visit is a provocative step, at a time when efforts are being made to calm the situation and prevent it from escalating.” He noted that “technical and military delegations from the two sides are preparing to negotiate and settle the dispute.”
He told Al-Hayat that “the statement issued by the KRG does not serve the efforts to calm the situation and reflects a desire to escalate.”
In a statement issued on Sunday [Dec. 9], the KRG attacked Maliki in response to his remarks to a Kuwaiti media delegation and accused him of poisoning the country’s mood, particularly between Arabs and Kurds. The statement added: “If Maliki had a sense of national responsibility he would have resigned, given the deplorable conditions in the country, the rampant corruption in his administration and the crisis that he has created throughout Iraq.”
The statement accused the government of “wasting more than $600 billion of the budget, making the country among the most corrupt in the world [...] You formed more than a million-man army, yet security remains absent across Iraq, outside of Kurdistan. Moreover, you didn't appoint even one commander in the army with the approval of parliament.”
Maliki had told the Kuwaiti media delegation that “the Kurdish issue is internal and linked to their attempts to establish a state. However, a state can’t live at the expense of another state.” He added: “We told the Kurds that if fighting broke out this time, it would become a fight between Arabs and Kurds, since mixed regions were originally Arab and Turkmen areas. If fighting were to break out, the Turkmen and Arabs would not stand idly by and we will not reach a solution.”
He pointed out that “the Iraqi army has the right to enter Erbil and sit in front of you,” referring to Barzani.
These remarks come at a time when Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has continued to make efforts to defuse the crisis. He announced after a meeting with Vice President Khudayr al-Khuzai yesterday that they had agreed to continue to reconcile points of view and would seek to find an agreement based on the constitution and national agreements.