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Iraq sacks Kirkuk governor amid dispute with Kurds

Governor said the vote to remove him from office was “unlawful” and vowed to stay in power

Gulf News

Baghdad: Iraq’s parliament on Thursday voted to dismiss the Kurdish governor of the ethnically-mixed Kirkuk province, in a move that could escalate tensions ahead of a planned Kurdish referendum on independence.

The governor said the vote to remove him from office was “unlawful” and vowed to stay in power.

The decision to remove Najm Al Deen Kareem came after Kirkuk—claimed by both the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq—voted to take part in a referendum set for Sept. 25 on Kurdish independence.

“I will stay in office,” Kareem told Reuters, hours after the parliamentary vote... The referendum will go ahead as planned.”

Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold the vote in three governorates that make up their autonomous region as well as disputed areas like Kirkuk that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad. Late last month, Kirkuk’s provincial council voted to take part in the referendum. Iraq’s central government has rejected the polls as unconstitutional and illegal.

Oil-rich Kirkuk is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians. Kurdish forces took control of the province and other disputed areas in the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept across northern and central Iraq and the Iraqi armed forces crumbled.

Iraq’s Kurdish region has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the US imposed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq after the 1990 Gulf War. It has its own parliament and armed forces, flies its own flag, and has been a close US ally against Daesh and other militant groups. But relations with Baghdad have grown strained in recent years over oil and the disputed areas.

Plans to go ahead with the referendum would come at a “cost”, Turkey warned Thursday.

“Barzani’s referendum decision is a historic mistake,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said.

Meanwhile, Daesh claimed twin suicide attacks in Iraq’s southern Thi Qar province killing at least 50 people—mostly Iranian pilgrims.