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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Curfew imposed in Iraqi city ahead of Kurdistan independence vote  

Iraq tightens security in Kirkuk after deadly clashes erupted between the city’s Kurds and Turkmens  

Iraqis wave Kurdish flags at a rally on September 19, 2017 in support of the upcoming independence referendum and against the parliament's sacking of the governor of oil-rich Kirkuk. Marwan Ibrahhim / AFP
Iraqis wave Kurdish flags at a rally on September 19, 2017 in support of the upcoming independence referendum and against the parliament's sacking of the governor of oil-rich Kirkuk. Marwan Ibrahhim / AFP

Baghdad’s central government deployed police in the early hours of Tuesday in the northern city of Kirkuk after clashes erupted amid preparations for Kurdistan’s independence referendum.

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani has vowed that there “will be no delay” on the Kurdish independence referendum on September 25 despite international and regional opposition

Kirkuk's police force said it had imposed a curfew "to prevent tensions from escalating” and check points were set up across the city after a Kurd was killed in a clash with guards outside the city office of the Turkmen political party.

Three others were injured- one Turkmen and two Kurds- in the skirmish that erupted when a convoy of Kurdish referendum supporters drove by the Turkmen Front’s headquarters.

Arshad Al Salehi, Iraqi member of parliament and head of the Turkmen Front in Kirkuk described the situation in the city as critical.

“Kurdish Peshmerga troops attacked the Turkmen Front headquarters while passing on Monday night” Mr Al Salehi said. “Clashes broke out when the Turkmen security guards in the building responded to the attack."

The Turkmen Front’s deputy leader, Abbas Beyatli, said the party strongly condemned the attack as it wasaimed at igniting a civil war in Kirkuk.

Tensions in the oil rich city of Kirkuk, which is home to Arabs, Turkmens, Christians and Kurds, arose after its Kurdish-led municipal council voted this month to take part in the planned referendum, even though Kirkuk does not lie within Kurdish territory. Kurdish forces took control of the province and other disputed areas in the summer of 2014 when ISIL extremists swept across northern and central Iraq and the Iraqi forces crumbled.

Meanwhile, the British defence secretary, Michael Fallon is in Erbil, the capital of semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, trying to persuade Kurdish officials to call off the planned poll.Mr Fallon renewed Britain’s opposition to the vote, on the grounds that it is a distraction from the battle against ISIL in Iraq.

"We are committed to the integrity of Iraq. We are working with the UN on alternatives to this referendum," Mr Fallon said.

His intervention came as Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi was discussing the Kurdish referendum with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyib Erdogan.

Mr Erdogan said Turkey will “co-ordinate with Iraq for to ensure security and stability in the region”. Both leaders stressed the need to urge the Kurds to call the vote off to avoid destabilising the region.

In efforts to resolve the crisis Saudi Arabia has offered to mediate between Baghdad and Erbil. After meeting Mr Barzani on Saturday in Erbil, Thamer Al Sabhan, Saudi's minister of state for Gulf affairs, praised the Kurdish president for accepting international mediation,

“I look forward to President Masoud Barzani’s wisdom and bravery to accept the international mediations to resolve the current crisis within the framework of the UN proposals and spare Iraq from crises it does not need.”

Iraq's central government has tried to stop the vote several times. Parliament voted to reject the referendum and also dismissed the governor of Kirkuk, Najmaldin Karim, who supports the referendum.

In response, Kirkuk's municipal council, which is dominated by Kurds, on Tuesday rejected parliament's sacking of Mr Karim.

On Monday, Iraq’s top court ruled the independence referendum should be suspended temporarily until issues regarding its constitutional legitimacy were resolved by talks between Baghdad and Erbil. In addition, Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias, also known as Hashd Al Shaabi, have threatened to dislodge the Peshmerga from Kirkuk should the Kurds persist in holding the vote.