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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Iraq court orders the arrest of Kurdish referendum organisers

The court in east Baghdad ordered the arrest of the chairwoman and two members of the independence referendum commission, ruling the three had 'organised the referendum in contravention of a ruling by the Iraqi supreme court', which had found the vote unconstitutional 

A boy carries a Kurdish flag on top of a car with pictures of Iraqi Kurdish president Masoud Barzani and his son, Masrour, on the windows, in the disputed city of Kirkuk on September 25, 2017. The Kurdistan Regional Government's security council has said pro-Baghdad forces are preparing to launch an attack on Kurdish forces in Kirkuk province. Bram Janssen / AP
A boy carries a Kurdish flag on top of a car with pictures of Iraqi Kurdish president Masoud Barzani and his son, Masrour, on the windows, in the disputed city of Kirkuk on September 25, 2017. The Kurdistan Regional Government's security council has said pro-Baghdad forces are preparing to launch an attack on Kurdish forces in Kirkuk province. Bram Janssen / AP

An Iraqi court on Wednesday ordered the arrest of senior Kurdish officials who organised last month's independence referendum, in a new bid to exert pressure on the Kurdish authorities.

The decision comes just over two weeks after Kurds overwhelmingly voted in favour of independence in the non-binding ballot slammed as illegal by Iraq's central government.

The court in east Baghdad ordered the arrest of Hendren Saleh, chairwoman of the referendum commission, along with commission members Yari Hajji Omar and Wahida Yofo Hermez. It ruled the three had "organised the referendum in contravention of a ruling by the Iraqi supreme court", which had found the vote unconstitutional and ordered it to be called off.

Supreme judicial council spokesman Abdel Sattar Bayraqdar said the east Baghdad court had acted in response to a request from the national security council, which is headed by Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi.

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Following the September 25 referendum, Baghdad halted international flights in and out of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region. It also unleashed a legal barrage against Kurdish officials and sought to seize key Kurdish businesses, while neighbouring Turkey and Iran have threatened to close their borders with the autonomous region to oil exports.

Iraqi authorities announced on Tuesday that they are looking to reopen a key oil pipeline to Turkey, which would rival a competing Kurdish export route.

Mr Al Abadi meanwhile reaffirmed Baghdad's stance on the vote, saying: "There is no retreat in our position on rejecting the Kurdish referendum. Iraq is one country."

The prime minister said that talks between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) would depend on the annulment of the referendum results.

"Any dialogue with Erbil has to be built on the following principles: Iraq's unity, the constitution and rejecting referendum's results, these terms are non-negotiable," Mr Al Abadi said during his weekly press conference in Baghdad on Tuesday.

"All doors for communication with the Kurdish regional government are open," said Mr Al Abadi. "We are one country and we don't need any mediators, we will continue."

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The referendum had faced sharp opposition from most regional and international actors, including Washington, Ankara and Tehran who all warned the vote could increase instability in the region and negatively impact the battle against ISIL, in which Kurdish fighters have been a key force.

Mr Al Abadi affirmed that ISIL extremists will be completely defeated in Iraq by the end of this year.

ISIL's power in Iraq mostly collapsed in July, when US-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul after a nine-month battle.

Following the fall of the town of Hawija and surrounding areas earlier this month, the group now only controls a stretch of territory skirting the western border with Syria.

Several hundred suspected ISIL fighters surrendered to Kurdish authorities last week after the extremists were driven out of Hawija, a Kurdish security official said on Tuesday. The suspects were part of a group of men who fled towards Kurdish-held lines when Iraqi forces captured ISIL’s base in the town.