Posts Tagged ‘Massud Barzani’

Kurds accuse Baghdad of refusing dialogue

November 27, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Iraqi Kurdish premier Nechirvan Barzani addresses a conference in Arbil on November 27, 2017

ARBIL (IRAQ) (AFP) – Iraqi Kurdish premier Nechirvan Barzani on Monday accused Iraq’s central government of refusing to open a dialogue even though the Kurds had bowed its opposition to their September independence vote.”We think the problems between Baghdad and Arbil should be resolved through serious dialogue and not via the media, but so far Baghdad is not ready for dialogue,” he said at a news conference in the Kurdish regional capital, Arbil.

Barzani questioned the federal government’s demands for the handover of border posts and airports in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

“Does this mean the Kurds working at the border posts and airports are not Iraqis, or that Baghdad only wants to employ Arabic speakers?” he asked.

After a September 25 independence referendum held in defiance of Baghdad, federal security forces seized control of disputed zones that had been held by the Kurds.

They also blocked international flights from landing in Iraqi Kurdish airports.

Barzani said the Kurds had respected a supreme court ruling that the independence vote was unconstitutional.

But for its part, Baghdad should reciprocate by annulling the sanctions it has imposed on Iraqi Kurdistan, he said.

Barzani has been running Iraqi Kurdistan since his uncle, Massud Barzani, stepped down in the wake of Baghdad’s territorial advances.

The premier also called Monday for an investigation into the mass displacement of Kurds from the mixed town of Tuz Khurmatu in northern Iraq, the scene of deadly violence in mid-October when Iraqi forces seized it from Kurdish control.

“We hold the Iraqi government responsible for what has happened and demand the return and protection of those displaced,” the Kurdish leader said.

The United Nations has said 35,000 people were evicted from Tuz Khormatu, mostly Kurds, and expressed concern over reports of homes, companies and political party offices being looted and destroyed.

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Kurds ready to ‘pay any price’ as independence vote nears

September 22, 2017

Reuters and France 24

© Marwan Ibrahim, AFP | Iraq’s Kurdistan region president Massud Barzani © attends an assembly with Kirkuk provincial Governor Najim al-Din Karim ®

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2017-09-22

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani said on Friday that Iraq’s Kurds were ready “to pay any price for freedom”, rejecting pressure to call off the referendum on independence planned for Monday in northern Iraq.

Adressing a rally in support of the vote in Erbil, the seat of the KRG, Barzani reacted to a United Nations Security Council statement that expressed on Thursday concern over the potential destabilising impact of the vote on Iraq.

Neighbouring countries and Western powers fear the vote could break up the country and stir broader regional ethnic and sectarian conflict. Turkey is holding army border exercises to underline its concerns Iraqi Kurdish separatism could feed insurrection on its soil.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on live television on Friday the vote posed a threat to national security and Ankara “will do what is necessary” to protect itself. He did not elaborate.

But Hoshyar Zebari, a senior advisor to Barzani, told Reuters: “This is the last five metres of the final sprint and we will be standing our ground.”

Many Kurds see the vote, though non-binding, as a historic opportunity to achieve self-determination a century after Britain and France divided the Middle East under the Sykes-Picot agreement. That arrangement left 30 million Kurds scattered over Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Zebari said delaying the vote without guarantees it could be held on a binding basis after negotiations with Baghdad would be “political suicide for the Kurdish leadership and the Kurdish dream of independence.

“An opportunity my generation won’t see again”.

The referendum raises most risk of ethnic conflict in the oil city of Kirkuk, which lies outside the recognised boundaries of the Kurdish region and is claimed by Baghdad. Its population includes Arabs and Turkmen but it is dominated by Kurds.

Turkey has long claimed a special responsibility in protecting ethnic Turkmen. Some of Iraq’s Turkmen are Shi’ite and affiliated to political parties close to Iran.

“We expect those who are against the referendum to cause trouble but we are determined not to engage in any kind of violence, we don’t want to give them any excuse to intervene or to question the validity of the vote,’’ Zebari said.

Kirkuk and oil

Tensions between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad hinge on oil revenue the Kurds see as the mainstay of a future Kurdish state. The Kurds have long accused Baghdad of withholding budget payments to the region, while Baghdad has opposed oil deals made by the Kurds without its consent.

A regional conflict could theaten oil supply from Kurdish and northern Iraqi fields to world markets, carried through a pipeline to Turkey.

Already at least one Kurd has been killed in pre-referendum clashes in Kirkuk, and security checkpoints have been erected across the city to prevent further violence.

The central government in Baghdad, Iraq’s neighbours and Western powers fear the vote could break up a country that has seen devastating sectarian and ethnic conflict since a 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

It could also undermine efforts, involving Arab and Kurdish cooperation, to dislodge Islamic State militants now driven from their northern stronghold in Mosul but still dug in near Kirkuk and operating across the border in Syria.

Any conflict around Kurdish northern Iraq could have ramifications across the Middle East, not least in Syria, Turkey and Iran. Ankara, Baghdad and Tehran agreed on Thursday to consider counter-measures against the Kurdish plans.

Turkey, which has developed close commercial and political ties with the region, especially in the area of energy, has also threatened to impose sanctions.

Condemning the vote as “provocative and destabilizing”, the U.S. has urged renewed negotiations. This followed a week of escalating rhetoric between the Kurdish leadership and Baghdad, where parliament voted to reject the referendum.

Though the general mood seems in favour of independence, many, especially non-Kurds, told Reuters they questioned the wisdom of holding a referendum now.

“We have been always living peacefully and don’t want problems,” said Karima Attiyah, an eldery Arab woman who has spent here whole life in Kirkuk. “I don’t support the referendum.”

Some fear it would embolden an entrenched political elite in a region long been plagued by political disunity. Barzani has been a powerful force for more than two decades where the north has been spared the turmoil that has affected much of the rest of Iraq.

Others cite a generational divide.

Older generations of Iraq’s Kurds suffered during Saddam Hussein’s 1980s Anfal campaign, and want to see their struggle for national independence come to fruition.

“(Our fathers and mothers) think it’s a betrayal not to vote for yes,” said Muhammed, a researcher from Sulaimaniyah in his 30s. “Their sons and relatives were killed by the Baghdad government in the past and they think the referendum is one way to revenge.”

More than 5.2 million people are registered to vote.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

US defence chief in Turkey for talks on Syria, Kurds

August 23, 2017

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis with President Masoud Barzani of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region on Tuesday in Erbil. CreditAzad Lashkari/Reuters

ANKARA (AFP) – Pentagon chief Jim Mattis arrived in Ankara on Wednesday for talks with Turkish leaders expected to focus on Washington’s arming of a Syrian Kurdish militia, which Turkey views as a terror group, in the fight against Islamic State.Mattis flew in for the one-day visit after stopping in Iraq to review progress in the campaign against IS militants, where he urged coalition partners to prevent other political issues from disrupting the growing momentum against the jihadists.

In Ankara, he will hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli.

Turkey, an important NATO ally of the United States and part of the coalition against IS, is incensed that Washington has been arming the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militias in the assault on the jihadists’ stronghold Raqa, in northern Syria.

Turkey regards the YPG as the Syrian affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In May, the Pentagon said it had begun transferring small arms and vehicles to the YPG to support their role as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance fighting IS.

The weapons include AK-47s and small-calibre machine guns.

The SDF is currently leading the assault on Raqa, with artillery and air support from US-led coalition forces.

– Kurdish referendum concerns –

US officials on Tuesday said the grinding fight was the “priority” in the counter-IS campaign since the fall of Mosul last month, the jihadists’ Iraqi hub.

The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq — which is also playing a key role in the fight against IS — is planning its own independence referendum in September.

Mattis met Tuesday with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani in Erbil to express US opposition to the referendum.

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Barzani

On the same day, Erdogan vowed Turkey would thwart any attempt by the YPG and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD) to carve out a Kurdish state in northern Syria.

“We do not and will never allow a so-called state to be established by the PYD, YPG in northern Syria,” Erdogan said.

The US is also concerned about warming ties between Iran and Turkey. Iranian armed forces chief General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri visited Turkey last week.

Erdogan on Monday said a joint operation with Iran against Kurdish militants which “pose a threat,” including the PKK, is “always on the agenda.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, however, denied the claim.

Pentagon chief in Baghdad as Iraqi forces press Tal Afar assault

August 22, 2017

AFP

© AFP | The Iraqi government announced the beginning of a military operation to retake Tal Afar from Islamic State group jihadists on August 20, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday as Iraqi forces pressed an assault on Tal Afar, the Islamic State group’s last major bastion in the country’s north.Mattis flew in for talks with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other top officials, as well as Massud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, saying he wants to help keep the regime focused on eradicating IS jihadists.

“Right now our focus is on defeating ISIS inside Iraq, restoring Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mattis told journalists ahead of his trip to Baghdad, using an alternative acronym for IS.

Iraqi troops, supported by the forces of a US-led international coalition, routed IS fighters in Mosul in July following a gruelling nine-month fight.

On Sunday they launched an assault on Tal Afar, once a key IS supply hub between Mosul — around 70 kilometres (45 miles) further east — and the Syrian border.

In the desert plains around Tal Afar, convoys of tanks and armoured vehicles could be seen heading Monday for the jihadist-held city, raising huge clouds of dust.

Mattis would not make any predictions on the fight.

“ISIS’s days are certainly numbered, but it’s not over yet and it’s not going to be over anytime soon,” he said.

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Mattis in Baghdad as Iraq presses assault on IS bastion

August 22, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Paul Handley with Ahmad al-Rubaye at Tal Afar Airbase | Map showing Tal Afar in Iraq where Iraqi forces began pounding IS positions on Sunday.

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Pentagon chief Jim Mattis was in Baghdad Tuesday to show US support for Iraqi forces as they pressed an assault on Tal Afar, the Islamic State group’s last major bastion in the country’s north.Mattis flew in for talks with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other top officials, as well as Massud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, saying he wants to help keep the regime focused on eradicating IS jihadists.

PHOTO: U.S. Sec. of Defense Jim Mattis, center, is greeted by U.S. Ambassador Douglas Silliman as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport on an unannounced trip Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. Lolita Baldor/AP Photo FILE PHOTO

 

“Right now our focus is on defeating ISIS inside Iraq, restoring Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mattis told journalists ahead of his trip to Baghdad, using an alternative acronym for IS.

Iraqi troops, supported by the forces of a US-led international coalition, routed IS in Mosul in July after a gruelling nine-month fight for Iraq’s second city.

On Sunday they launched an assault on Tal Afar, once a key IS supply hub between Mosul — around 70 kilometres (45 miles) to the east — and the Syrian border.

In the desert plains around Tal Afar, convoys of tanks and armoured vehicles could be seen heading Monday for the jihadist-held city, raising huge clouds of dust.

Mattis would not make any predictions on the fight.

“ISIS’s days are certainly numbered, but it’s not over yet and it’s not going to be over anytime soon,” said the US defence secretary.

Iraqi forces “fought like the dickens in Mosul, (it) cost them over 6,000 wounded, somewhere over 1,200 killed,” he noted.

Yet that comeback restored the confidence of the Iraqi security forces after their shock loss of Mosul to Islamic State group in 2014.

Mattis stressed that retaking Mosul would not have happened “without… Abadi’s steady hand reconstituting that army, that was so shattered in 2014, an army he inherited.”

But the comeback also leaned crucially on extensive training, planning and firepower support from the US military.

The future of that support still must be settled, and there will be resistance from Shiite militia and Iranians, said Nicholas Heras, Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

– Kurdistan referendum challenge –

Mattis said discussions will focus on the way ahead, including how to keep Iraq from again politically fragmenting or falling further under Iran’s influence, after four years united around battling the jihadists.

“Secretary Mattis is going to be very much focused on a pathway for the United States to continue to have to a residual force in Iraq to continue to train Iraqi security forces” and avoiding a successor from IS rising up, said Heras.

A key issue is Iraqi Kurdistan’s plan for an independence referendum on September 25, strongly opposed by the US as an event that could undermine Abadi politically and distract from the fight against IS.

“A referendum at this time would be potentially catastrophic to the counter-ISIS campaign,” said Brett McGurk, the White House envoy to the anti-IS coalition.

“It’s not just the United States; every member of our coalition believes that now is not the time to hold this referendum.”

McGurk said the initial push on the outskirts of Tal Afar was “going well”, with 235 square kilometres (90 square miles) cleared in the first 24 hours.

“That will be a very difficult battle,” he said, but added that Iraqi and US forces are “moving faster, more effectively, more efficiently,” in part due to US President Donald Trump having given Mattis more authority to decide on tactics and resources needed.

Mattis, who is on a five-day swing through Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Ukraine, said he would also talk about reconstruction and resettlement of hundreds of thousand of Iraqis driven from their homes and towns by the fighting, especially Mosul.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a heavy lift for them going forward.”

But Heras said Mattis, whom he said has earned firm trust among Iraqis, needs to help Abadi further build his power as a moderate for the post-war, with elections looming for next year.

“That will be a political pickle that Mattis will have to work Abadi through,” he said.

For Mattis’s meeting with Barzani, Heras added: “All signs point to it being one of those tough-love talks.”

by Paul Handley with Ahmad al-Rubaye at Tal Afar Airbase

US urges Iraq Kurds to postpone independence vote

August 12, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | An Iraqi man prints Kurdistan flags in Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Washington has urged Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani to postpone an independence referendum scheduled for next month but he requested something in return, his office said Saturday.

The timing of the September 25 vote has drawn criticism from both the Baghdad and Western governments, coming as the campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Iraq if still unfinished.

In a telephone call on Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington “would want for the referendum to be postponed and that the issues between the Kurdistan region and the federal government in Baghdad should be addressed through dialogue”, Barzani’s office said in an English-language statement.

The Kurdish leader responded that were it to be put off, “the people of the Kurdistan region would expect guarantees and alternatives for their future”.

Some Iraqi Kurdish officials have openly acknowledged that calling the referendum was intended as a bargaining counter in negotiations with Baghdad on other issues.

The Kurdish regional government’s representative in Iran, Nazem Dabbagh, said last month that the Kurds wanted Baghdad to meet their longstanding demand for plebiscites on incorporating other historically Kurdish-majority areas in their autonomous region.

He said they also wanted Baghdad to ratify laws on oil revenues and funding for the Kurdish security forces, known as the peshmerga, who have played a crucial role in the fight against IS.

The referendum would in any case be non-binding and is strongly opposed by neighbours Iran and Turkey, which have sizeable Kurdish minorities of their own and whose acquiescence is seen as key to achieving a viable separation.

Pentagon chief in Kurdistan to review Mosul offensive

October 23, 2016

AFP

Kurdish leader Massud Barzani (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter ahead of a meeting on October 23, 2016 in Arbil

ARBIL (IRAQ) (AFP) – US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter arrived in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan on Sunday to review the ongoing military offensive to retake the jihadist bastion of Mosul.As the Pentagon chief went into talks with Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, US officials said Kurdish peshmerga forces had almost reached their goals in the week-old offensive.

The battle plan is for the peshmerga forces to stop along a line at an average of 20 kilometres (12 miles) outside of the city of Mosul, the Islamic State group’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

“They are pretty much there,” a US military official said Saturday when Carter was holding meetings in Baghdad.

Elite federal forces are then expected to take the lead and breach into the city proper, where more than a million civilians are still believed to be living.

That peshmerga line of control, mostly on the northern and eastern fronts, “will be solidified in the next day or two,” the official said.

The United States leads a 60-nation coalition — which also includes Britain and France — that has provided key support in the form of thousands of air strikes, training to Iraqi forces and advisers on the ground.

Kurdish forces are currently engaged in a huge push around the IS-held town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul.

They gained significant ground on the eastern front in the first days of the offensive, which was launched on October 17.

In Baghdad, Carter praised the peshmerga and “the way their efforts are completely coordinated with the ISF (Iraqi securitry forces).”

The coordination between Baghdad and Arbil, at odds over Kurdish independence and oil revenue, had been one of the key question marks ahead of the offensive.

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition, noted on Saturday that, while progress in the offensive was satisfactory, jihadist resistance was stiff.

“The resistance is about as broad as expected,” he said in Baghdad.

“It’s pretty significant, we are talking about enemy indirect fire, multiple IEDs (improvised explosive devices), multiple VBIED (vehicle-borne IEDs) each day, even some anti-tank guided missiles, so it’s been very tough fighting, snipers, machineguns,” he said.

US military officials have revised their estimate slightly upward for the number of IS fighters involved int he Mosul theatre.

They believe the IS group is defending its stronghold of Mosul, where the “caliphate” was proclaimed in June 2014, with 3,000 to 5,000 fighters inside the city and 1,000 to 2,000 spread out on the outskirts.

A French government official told AFP the breach into Mosul, which could mark the beginning of a phase of fierce street battles with IS, could still be a month away.