Dozens of people including armed men took to the streets of the disputed town of Mandali on September 10, 2017 demanding the Kurdish flag be removed and a vote to join the Kurdish independence referendum by the town council cancelled. Kurdish officials say a unit of the mainly Hashd al-Shaabi organized the protest. Photo: User Generated Content
KHANAQIN, Kurdistan Region – Mandali’s local council has voted to remove the Kurdish mayor following a day of tensions between the Kurdish-led local government in the disputed town and armed fighters of the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi. Kurdish officials say the vote took place under duress and they will appeal the decision.
Armed men from a Hashd al-Shaabi unit called for a meeting of the Mandali town council and forced a vote cancelling an earlier vote to join the Kurdistan independence referendum and remove the mayor, Hoshyar Ismaeel, a member of the provincial council in Diyala where Mandali is located, told Rudaw. He said he had contacted Kurdish members of Mandali town council.
Ismaeel said the vote is “illegal,” occurred out of administrative protocols, and the town council met under duress.
The council has 13 members, eight of whom are members of a united Kurdish faction. The others are Arabs.
Rudaw’s Halo Mohammed said that all council members, including the Kurds, attended the Monday session in Mandali.
“The eight members who signed it were under a lot of pressure,” Azad Hamid, the head of the Mandali Town Council told reporters Monday in a press conference in Khanaqin following the controversial vote earlier in the day, adding that the problem is that the fighters do not belong to an official force.
Hamid was in Mandali when the vote took place, but he said he refused to sign the vote.
This comes after armed men from some Arab tribes and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, a Hashd al-Shaabi group, stormed the town hall on Sunday and removed the Kurdistan flag.
Kurdistan is holding a referendum on September 25 on whether the people of the Kurdistan Region and disputed or Kurdistani areas want to leave Iraq, including in Mandali.
The Iraqi government considers the independence vote unconstitutional and the Hashd al-Shaabi has said they oppose holding the referendum in areas they control.
Some Kurdish parties met Monday in nearby Khanaqin, the second such meeting in two days.
Hemin Mansur, deputy head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told Rudaw they discussed the situation in Mandali.
He said they have decided to appeal today’s vote in the Iraqi courts and will voice their concerns to the Iraqi authorities, including the office of the prime minister and security commanders in Baghdad.
Mansur criticized the Diyala Provincial Police and the Tigris Command of the Iraqi army for failing to protect peace and security in Mandali. He praised the efforts of the Diyala governor who visited Mandali on Sunday in an effort to bring the situation under control, but added that even the governor could not do much as the armed men remained in the town.
A scene from the protest in the disputed town of Mandali on Sptember 10, 2017. Photo: User Generated Content
Mandali, some 450 kilometers south of Erbil, is part of the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both the Iraqi and Kurdistan governments.
The Peshmerga are not stationed in Mandali, but have a significant presence near the town including in Khanaqin, 90 km to the north.
Mahmud Sangawi, the local commander of Peshmerga forces headed the Sunday meeting, telling Rudaw before the meeting that taking down the Kurdistan flag is not “acceptable” and the fighters who did it should know their actions will not go unchallenged.
Sherko Mirways, head of the PUK office in Khanaqin, told reporters Sunday that it was a group of 150 to 200 people, including “former Baathists,” who removed the flag.
Mandali’s local government voted last month to take part in the Kurdistan independence referendum.
The government in Erbil has said they will hold the vote in every disputed area where local elected governments request it.
After the events of the last two days, Kurdish officials said they may be forced to open polling stations in Khanaqin for the people of Mandali.
President Masoud Barzani released a statement Sunday calling for the language of tolerance and coexistence after an eruption of anger among Kurds reacting to events in Mandali.
"We call upon the people of Kurdistan to consider the high values of our nation and the historical culture of brotherhood and co-existence between the religious and ethnic components when they express their will and rights," the statement read.
Harsh comments opposing co-existence are “far away from the culture of tolerance in the Kurdistan nation,” Barzani said.
Last updated at 11:07 p.m.