BAGHDAD, Iraq — Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim has said that he will stay in his provincial position despite the vote earlier in the day by the Iraqi parliament to remove him after the local government in Kirkuk voted to join the Kurdish independence referendum.
Kirkuk Governor Karim said that the vote by the Iraqi parliament is a point of “pride” for him personally and also for Kirkuk, and for everyone who has supported his stances including Arabs and Turkmen.
The statement published by the Governor’s media office outlined that the current laws that apply to Kirkuk, unlike other provinces, does not allow for the Iraqi parliament or the Iraqi Prime Minister to remove the Kirkuk governor.
Kirkuk, unlike the rest of Iraq, has held only one provincial election in 2005 since the US-led invasion about 14 years ago. The election law therefore that regulates the work of the rest of the Iraqi provinces does not apply to Kirkuk.
The statement added that the law that regulated the work of the current provincial council in Kirkuk gives the right to replace or remove the governor “solely to the Provincial Council” in Kirkuk.
At an independence rally on the other side of the Kurdistan Region in Zakho, Kurdish President Masoud Barzani slammed the Iraqi parliament’s vote. He called the stance taken by Karim as “patriotic” and said the vote proves yet once again that Iraq is governed by a “political majority” whereby the majority members of parliament deem it right to sideline the Kurdish minority.
Later the Kurdish presidency condemned the action, stating it is one more example that proves the failure of partnership, consensus and the violation of the Iraqi constitution.
“The people of Kurdistan and the people in the province of Kirkuk would not commit to this decision of the Iraqi parliament in any shape or form,” the statement by the Kurdish presidency read.
“His Excellency Najmaldin Karim was not appointed by the Iraqi parliament so that they can withdraw his vote of confidence,” the statement added.” The Kirkuk Governor received his vote of confidence through an election and by the Provincial Council of Kirkuk. It is the people of Kirkuk who have such right, and not the Iraqi parliament.”
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), of which Karim is a member, condemned the removal by the Iraqi parliament as illegal.
“The Iraqi government is politically punishing the Kurdistan Region. The decree to oust the Kirkuk governor is illogical,” PUK media quoted party spokesperson Saadi Pira as saying. “We are strongly standing against the decision.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had called on the Iraqi parliament to vote on removing Karim from his position earlier in the day. No reason was immediately given for Abadi’s call for Karim’s dismissal. Then, the Shiite-party dominated parliament voted to oust the governor.
Karim has been a vocal supporter of Kurdistan Region independence and holding the vote in the province, which is home to Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Christians. As one of the Kurdistani or disputed areas, it is claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil.
Speaking Wednesday night on Rudaw’s Rudawi Emro programme, Karim dismissed the notion that parliament could withdraw confidence from him.
“I have not been given confidence from the Iraqi parliament for them to withdraw it from me. The party which elected me as governor was the Kirkuk Provincial Council,” said Karim.
“In the last election, I won more than half the votes of the people and I will serve them until the next election, or as long as they want me,” he added.
When the people of Kirkuk decide they no longer need his service, Karim said then he will go. “But here, I am serving the people of Kirkuk and the people of Kirkuk have given confidence to me, not the Iraqi parliament.”
Barzani met with Karim and Kurdish Vice President Kosrat Rasul in Kirkuk on Tuesday — Barzani’s first visit to rally the vote in the Kurdistani areas.
“There may be Arabs living in these areas, they should enjoy all their rights and privileges, and the same for others,” the president said Tuesday as he also named other various religious and national components.
Barzani had predicted the move by the Iraqi legislature.
“The Baghdad parliament is about to remove Dr. Najmaldin, but we do not listen to them or care,” said Barzani.
Barzani and Karim have expressed they expect a ‘Yes’ vote to prevail in areas like Kirkuk, but emphasize it’s up to the people in those areas to determine their future.
“It is up to them whether they vote yes or no once they go to the polling stations. People cannot be prevented from doing so,” Karim told Rudaw in an August interview.
"Definitely," Barzani said in June: "If the people of these areas want to organize and the majority says, ‘We don’t want to be with Kurdistan,’ we have full respect for the decision of that people in that area."
Iraq’s parliament also collected signatures on Thursday to expel Fuad Masum, the president of Iraq who is a Kurdish PUK member for not preserving “the territorial integrity and the constitution of Iraq,” according to Mohammed Sahiud, a MP from the State of Law faction, the largest bloc within the parliament’s Shiite coalition.
Sahuid added: “The Iraqi president has not expressed any stance on the referendum, which is going to be implemented by Masoud Barzani; therefore many MPs have collected signatures to dismiss the president from his post.”
Sunnis are against removing Masum, arguing against an action that they say would deepen problems between Iraqis.
The position of the Iraqi president has held by a Kurd from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) since 2005. PUK leader Jalal Talabani served as president from 2005 to 2014 and Masum from 2014 to the present.