Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi. AP photo
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Iraq’s Vice President Ayad Allawi has warned of the ignition of a possible “civil war” over the oil rich city of Kirkuk if Baghdad and Erbil do not reach a resolution over their soaring tensions which emerged after the Kurdistan Region held a referendum for independence which included the ethnically diverse Kurdish administrated areas.
Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Allawi urged President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani, Baghdad and Shiite militia groups to resolve their disagreements over Kirkuk, defined as Kurdistani by the Region and disputed by Baghdad.
Allawi, warned that any attempt by the Hashd al-Shaabi’s Asaib al-Haq to march towards Kirkuk city would “damage all possibilities for unifying Iraq” and open the door to “violent conflict.”
“The government claims they control the Popular Mobilization Forces. If they do they should restrain them, rather than go into a kind of civil war. And there should be a restraint on Masoud Barzani and the Peshmerga not to take aggressive measures to control these lands,” said Allawi.
The head of the Asaib al-Haq militia Qais Khazali warned worshippers in a sermon Sunday that Iraq’s Kurds were planning to claim much of north Iraq, including Kirkuk, as an independent state.
He said it would be tantamount to a “foreign occupation,” according to remarks reported by the Afaq TV channel, which is close to the state-sanctioned militia.
Despite mounting pressures from Baghdad, neighboring and world countries, the Kurdistan Region held a referendum on independence from Iraq which included Kirkuk.
The Kurdish authorities have on several occasions explained that holding the referendum in the disputed areas was not to draw borders but for the people to express their opinion.
The Iraqi government has passed a number of punitive measures, including a ban on international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region; a measure the Kurdistan government has called “collective punishment.” It has also officially demanded Kurdistan’s neighbors, both Turkey and Iran, to close their land borders with the Kurdistan Region and help bring Kurdish oil exports under the control of federal authorities.
The Iraqi government opposed Kurdistan’s popular vote that took place on September 25 and has called for the vote to be annulled, a measure Erbil has rejected.
Turkey and Iran have also threatened punitive measures against the Region.
Allawi in his interview with the AP also warned against opening the door to foreign interference.
“Kirkuk has become a flashpoint,” said Allawi. “Iraqis should be left alone to discuss their own problems.”
Earlier this week the Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani called on Baghdad to resolve its internal outstanding issues directly with Erbil, not Ankara or Tehran
Allawi was in Erbil over the weekend to attend the funeral of Jalal Talabani the former Iraqi president and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) where he met in Sulaimani with Barzani and along with Osama al-Nujaifi also a vice president backing dialogue
Following their meeting with Barzani, Allawi told Rudaw that the punitive measures taken by Iraq against the Kurdistan Region should be stopped, that “the Kurdish nation should not be punished and dialogue should be pursued.”
Both Allawi and Nujaifi reaffirmed to Rudaw that the solution to the problems between the two governments should be “Iraqi,” instead of coming from outside the country.
But shortly afterwards, the Iraqi government said that it was not necessarily committed to the outcome of ongoing talks
between the Kurdish leadership and two of the Iraqi vice presidents that called to cancel the punitive measures taken against Erbil and for talks between the two sides to begin without any pre-conditions.