Maliki Deploys 'Tigris Force' to Kirkuk

A stalemate over planning for local elections and the deployment of a special Iraqi unit have raised fears of escalation in Kirkuk, reports Karim Abed Zayer.

al-monitor An Iraqi policeman stands guard at the site of a bomb attack in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, September 9, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Ako Rasheed.

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tigris forces, tigris operations command, peshmerga forces, peshmerga allowances, peshmerga, nouri al-maliki

Nov 13, 2012

Kalshan Kamal, a member of Iraq's High commission of Elections, revealed that the differences plaguing the political blocs are hindering the local elections scheduled for next March in Kirkuk province, which contains seven of the world's oil fields.

Kamal told Azzaman yesterday [Nov. 12] that no political agreement has been so far reached concerning the formula of updating the voter registry or retaining old records.

Kamal said that the commission is waiting for the parliament to enact a law on the elections in Kirkuk and the counting mechanism, adding, however, that this has not taken place yet.

According to Kamal, the commission has formed a committee to participate in any meeting that the parliament holds concerning a bill on the elections in Kirkuk. However, no such meetings have been held due to disagreements and differences between Kirkuk's Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Christian components.

For their part, the Kurdish parties organized a demonstration in Kirkuk against what they described as the militarization of civil society and the deployment of the Tigris forces, formed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in Kirkuk.

Meanwhile, political sources inside Kirkuk told Azzaman that Kirkuk's population is living in terror, fearing the outbreak of armed clashes between the Tigris forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Asaish forces.

The sources said that dozens of foreign companies, especially Turkish ones, have suspended their activities and closed their doors because of the security situation. They said that the city’s trade activities are experiencing a downfall.

The sources explained that the North Oil Company (NOC), which is composed of Kurdish elements, has upped the level of surveillance on oil wells and NOC department buildings in Kirkuk for fear of attack on the part of the Tigris forces, but the sources said that oil production is still normal.

The sources pointed that the Tigris forces are still receiving weaponry reinforcements, as arms continue to flow to the Kurdish Peshmerga and Asaish forces.

They added that the Tigris forces, whose camps are only 15 km away from the center of Kirkuk, are moving southwest and northwest. The Peshmerga and the Asaish, however, are moving northeast of Kirkuk as the security forces beef up their presence in the city center.

Kirkuk's Arabs support handing over the security issue to the Tigris forces. For their part, the city's Kurds are against such step, and the Turkmen express reservations.

The sources said that the conflicting parties are trying to strengthen their military and security control ahead of the local elections, a date that, according to the people, will witness the start of a war.

For his part, President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani said that the Iraqi government's formation of the military-operations command in the disputed areas in Kirkuk is unconstitutional, expressing his rejection of this action.

Barzani said that the formation of the Tigris Operations Command in the areas of Kirkuk and Diyala is an unconstitutional step on the part of the Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki.

In a statement issued by the presidency of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Barzani added it was necessary to draw public attention in Kurdistan and Iraq in general to the fact that there have been doubts and fears since the very beginning of the formation of the so-called Tigris Operations Command, because it was founded with intentions that are contrary to Kurdish interests, the democratic process and coexistence in the areas outside of Kurdistan.

The Kurds are demanding that the oil-rich city of Kirkuk be appended to Kurdistan through the application of Article 140 of the constitution, meaning a referendum in Kirkuk, a process that Baghdad opposes.

Barzani said he had given Baghdad lawmakers enough time to deliver on the promises they gave to His Excellency President Jalal Talabani concerning the dissolution of the Tigris Command. During that period, Barzani said the people of Kurdistan had not taken any escalatory steps because they believed in dialogue and negotiations.

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