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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Kurdish opponents of Barzani report attacks on offices

It came just hours after the Iraqi Kurdish president announced his resignation

An office belonging to the Kurdish Gorran party in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Zakho is seen here on October 30, 2017 after the party said it was burnt overnight. Ari Jalal / Reuters
An office belonging to the Kurdish Gorran party in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Zakho is seen here on October 30, 2017 after the party said it was burnt overnight. Ari Jalal / Reuters

Iraqi Kurdish political parties opposed to Kurdish president Masoud Barzani have reported attacks on their offices in several cities, hours after the leader of the Kurdish autonomous region announced his resignation.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Puk), the Movement for Change and Gorran said several of their offices, north of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, were looted or burnt overnight from Sunday to Monday. No casualties were reported.

Armed protesters supporting Mr Barzani stormed parliament as it met on Sunday to approve his resignation. Opposition lawmakers who had been barricaded inside managed to leave later, according to their parties.

Mr Barzani, 71, said on Sunday he would give up his position as president on Wednesday, just weeks after an independence referendum he championed in northern Iraq backfired and triggered military and economic retaliation by the Iraqi government.

The president's Kurdistan Regional Government said it had ordered the local police forces, known as Asayish, to stop the attacks.

The Puk, which has been the main rival of Mr Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party, KDP, for decades, supported the president's decision to hold the independence referendum on September 25. However, the reformist Gorran party opposed the vote, saying that the timing was poor coming just weeks after Iraqi forces made headway in their fight against ISIL.

In a televised speech announcing his plan to step down, Mr Barzani said followers of his long-term rival, Puk founder Jalal Talabani who died in early October, had been guilty of "high treason" for handing over the oil city of Kirkuk to Iraqi forces without a fight two weeks ago.

Kurdish president Masoud Barzani gives a televised speech in Erbil, announcing his intention to step down, on October 29, 2017. Kurdistan 24 TV via Reuters TV
Kurdish president Masoud Barzani gives a televised speech in Erbil, announcing his intention to step down, on October 29, 2017. Kurdistan 24 TV via Reuters TV

Earlier in October, Iraqi prime minister Haidar Al Abadi ordered his forces to recapture the northern territory and all other disputed territory from Kurdish forces in retaliation for the independence referendum, which Baghdad considers illegal.

Kurdish fighters known as Peshmerga had held Kirkuk, one of Iraq's main oil centres, since 2014 when they seized it after government troops fled in the face of an advance by ISIL.

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Although Kirkuk is outside the borders of the Kurdish autonomous region, Kurds consider it the heart of their homeland.

On Monday, Mr Al Abadi called for calm in the Kurdish region after the reported violence the previous night.

He said the central Iraqi government was closely monitoring what he described as "attempts to create chaos and disorder" in the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Dohuk.

Also on Monday, Iran said it would reopen all of its border crossings with the Iraqi Kurdistan region in the coming days, lifting restrictions imposed after the independence referendum.

Iran, which condemned the Kurds' push for independence and has its own Kurdish minority, closed its borders with the autonomous region at the request of Baghdad.

"Border restrictions between Iran and Iraq’s Kurdish region will be lifted in coming days," Iran's chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri was quoted as saying by the Isna news agency.

He said if Iraqi Kurdistan implemented its plan to break away from Baghdad, "there would be bloodshed in Iraq and neighbouring countries would be affected".

Mr Al Abadi wants to take control of the border crossings between Iraq's Kurdish region and Turkey, Iran and Syria, including one through which an oil export pipeline crosses into Turkey.

In other developments, the Iraqi body in charge of supervising media in Baghdad issued on Sunday a ban on two major Kurdish TV channels close to Mr Barzani's KDP: Rudaw and Kurdistan 24.

The Baghdad-based Communication and Media Commission accused the two networks of "inciting violence and hatred".

"This is an assault on freedom of press and expression," replied Erbil-based Kurdistan 24's management in a letter to the International Federation of Journalists.

It came as Rudaw on Monday accused Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitaries who are operating alongside government forces of killing a Kurdish journalist, Arkan Sharif, in Kirkuk province.

While the Iraqi Kurds have mostly shown outward unity since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, they have a deep history of conflict between Mr Barzani's KDP and Talabani's Puk, which fought each other in a civil war in the 1990s.

The KDP is based mostly around Erbil, while the Puk draws its support mostly from the area of Suleimaniyah, the other main city in the region.

The two political parties run separate units of Peshmerga, their former underground guerrilla armies that have since become the official security forces of the Kurdish autonomous region.

After Saddam's fall, Mr Barzani ran the Kurdish autonomous region while Talabani served as ceremonial president of all of Iraq in Baghdad from 2005 to 2014.