Baghdad's national security council announced an investigation has been launched into Kurdistan's lucrative oil revenues and officials in the region who might have illegally monopolised the market
Iraq imposes new measures on Kurdistan over independence push
Baghdad launched a legal barrage against Kurdish officials on Monday as tensions between the two sides escalated over Kurdistan's independence push.
President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani held a non-binding vote on independence two weeks ago, despite strong objections from Baghdad, Ankara, and Tehran, enraging leaders in the international community.
The central government responded by banning international flights out of the region and threatening to suspend Kurdish representatives from the national parliament. While Turkey and Iran have threatened to close their borders to oil exports.
On Monday, Baghdad's national security council announced that an investigation has been launched into Kurdistan's lucrative oil revenues and officials in the region who might have illegally monopolised the market.
The council, headed by Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi, said: "The corrupt will be exposed and the funds recovered" adding that "a list of names" of Kurdish officials who helped organised the referendum had been compiled and "judicial measures have been taken against them," without giving further details.
Baghdad's central government is also looking to reclaim control over mobile phone companies in the region, including two of the largest providers in Iraq, the statement said.
The statement did not identify the networks concerned, but it is believed to be directed at Korek and Asiacell, respectively based in the Kurdistan capital Erbil and Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya. Iraq's third operator, Zain, is based in Baghdad.
"The government committee for national security issued a decision that all mobile phone networks must be under federal control and should be moved to Baghdad," the statement said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi vice president Osama Al Nujafi said the Kurdish president has agreed not to act on the results of the referendum if Baghdad ensures the rights of the autonomous Kurdish region.
It comes after Mr Al Nujaifi met with the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, on Saturday.
“Mr Barzani said, ‘We will freeze the results of the referendum if we reach an agreement with Baghdad’s central government that ensures the rights of the Kurdish region',” Mr Al Nuaijfi’s spokesperson told The National on Monday.
Mr Barzani and Mr Al Nujaifi met on Saturday in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, where they were attending the funeral of Jalal Talabani, former Iraqi president and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party. Ayad Allawi, one of Iraq's two other vice presidents, was also present at the meeting.
The trio agreed to talks between Baghdad and Erbil with an open agenda and to ensure ongoing meetings between the two sides.
How much weight this agreement carries is unclear, however, after Baghdad later rejected the meeting.
"The meeting that took place between president of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani and Iraqi vice presidents Ayad Allawi and Osama Al Nujaifi does not reflect the position of the Iraqi government,” Saad Al Hadithi, the spokesman of prime minister Haider Al Abadi, said on Sunday.
Mr Al Nujaifi's spokesperson said the vice president believed “the decision to hold the Kurdish referendum was unilateral and wrong”.
Following his comments, Mr Allawi said there could be a "civil war" over the Kurdish-administered city of Kirkuk if talks over Kurdish independence are left unresolved.
Mr Allawi urged Mr Barzani and Baghdad's central government to show restraint and resolve disputes over the oil-rich city.
Kirkuk was included in the Kurdish referendum even though it falls outside of the autonomous Kurdish region. The ethnically-mixed city has been administered by Kurdish forces since 2014 after Iraqi forces fled from ISIL extremists.
Mr Al Abadi demanded the Kurdish self-government annul the results and called for joint administration over Kirkuk. Mr Allawi believes that Kirkuk could be the "flashpoint" that ignites conflict in northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, tensions between Erbil and Baghdad heightened when a video footage emerged of clashes between the rival sets of bodyguards for Iraq's president Fuad Masum vice president Nouri Al Maliki during a memorial service for Mr Talabani in Baghdad.