By Abdel Hamid Zebari
Arbil, Iraq (AFP) Oct 24, 2017
Parliament in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region decided Tuesday to hold legislative elections in eight months after they were delayed amid tensions with the central government in Baghdad over disputed territories.
Regional legislative and presidential elections had both been due on November 1 but were postponed after Baghdad seized a swathe of territory from Kurdish forces following a controversial independence vote.
There was no immediate word on a new date for a presidential election.
"The Kurdistan parliament decided... to postpone the parliamentary elections in the autonomous region by eight months," Islamic Union of Kurdistan parliamentarian Bahzad Zebari told AFP.
Farsat Sofi of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of long-time Kurdish leader Massud Barzani said parliament would now choose a new date for legislative and presidential elections.
The elections were originally set for just over a month after a September 25 referendum in the Kurdish areas which resulted in a massive "yes" for independence.
But the referendum, set in motion by Barzani, was strongly opposed by Baghdad.
Last week, Iraqi forces last week swept into the oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk, restoring it and Kurdish-held parts of Nineveh and Diyala provinces to central government control.
The rapid Kurdish retreat triggered recriminations among Kurdish politicians and prompted the regional parliament to suspend both elections.
It also decided "to freeze the activities of the Kurdistan presidency," Zebari said Tuesday.
The body includes Barzani, his vice-president Kosrat Rasul of KDP rival the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the head of the presidential cabinet, Fuad Hussein.
- Blows to Barzani -
The body's suspension, and the fact that parliament did not extend its mandate again, represent major blows to Barzani.
On Sunday, Iraqi Kurdistan's main opposition party called on him to step down after the loss of Kurdish-controlled territory.
Shoresh Haji of the opposition Goran movement, which holds 24 out of 111 seats in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament, said both Barzani and Rasul should quit.
"The Kurdistan region's president and his deputy no longer have any legitimacy and should resign," he said.
Haji called for the creation of a "national salvation government" to prepare for dialogue with Baghdad and organise new elections.
Goran deputies boycotted Tuesday's session of parliament.
The mandate of Barzani, the first and only elected president of the autonomous Kurdish region, expired in 2013.
It was extended for two years and then continued in the chaos that followed the Islamic State group's sweeping offensive across Iraq in 2014.
Under the autonomous region's laws, it was Barzani who had set general elections for November 1.
However, Tuesday's vote now means that parliament will decide the new electoral calendar, several parliamentarians said.
A month after scoring a major victory in the independence referendum, Barzani now finds himself increasingly isolated both at home and abroad.
The United States, a key ally of both Baghdad and Kurdish forces in the battle against IS, opposed the non-binding referendum on independence, as did nations including Iraq's neighbours Iran and Turkey.
Tensions between Arbil and Baghdad show no sign of easing, with tit-for-tat arrest warrants being issued for politicians and military officials on both sides.
More than a week after the deadly battle for Kirkuk, a security official in Nineveh province bordering Turkey on Tuesday reported new clashes between Kurdish peshmerga fighters and paramilitary units that report to Baghdad.
Iraqi forces attacked Kurdish districts after clashes: Amnesty
"Hundreds of properties were looted, set on fire and destroyed in what appears to be a targeted attack on predominantly Kurdish areas" of Tuz Khurmatu after fighting on October 16, the rights group said in a report.
"Residents who are still in the city, as well as others who fled and then attempted to return, described how Iraqi government forces, as well as members of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), Turkmen fighters and Turkmen civilians, engaged in rampant arson, looting and demolition of civilian homes," the group said.
Locals also said at least 11 civilians were killed in "indiscriminate attacks" as heavy weaponry was used in densely-populated areas of the city.
"Civilians interviewed by Amnesty International were unable to determine whether the attacks they experienced were attributable to Kurdish or Iraqi government forces," the UK-based group said.
"However, in several of the cases documented by Amnesty International, the indiscriminate fire was launched into crowds of Kurdish residents fleeing the city."
Tuz Khurmatu, a city of 100,000 that has seen outbursts of communal tensions, was under the joint control of Kurdish forces and PMU paramilitary forces, also known as the Hashed al-Shaabi, which report to Baghdad.
But Kurdish forces were ousted from the town as government forces staged a lightning operation that saw them seize back disputed Kirkuk region following a controversial Kurdish vote for independence.
The United Nations estimates that some 35,000 people have fled Tuz Khurmatu, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Baghdad, since the fighting erupted on October 16.
"Within hours the lives of countless men, women and children were devastated in Tuz Khurmatu. Thousands have lost their homes, shops and everything they owned," said Lynn Maalouf, Director of Research for the Middle East at Amnesty International.
She urged Iraqi authorities to make good on pledges to clamp down on attacks against civilians and "promptly initiate impartial investigations into these violations".
Altun Kupri, Iraq (AFP) Oct 20, 2017
Iraqi forces clashed with Kurdish fighters Friday as the central government said it had wrested back control of the last area of disputed Kirkuk province in the latest stage of a sweeping operation after a controversial independence vote. Iraq's Joint Operations Command said police, counter-terrorism units and allied militias seized the Altun Kupri region, extending the central government's ... read more
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