July 14, 2014 | 2228 GMT
Once again, internal Kurdish rivalries, spurred by the influence of regional competitors, threaten to undermine Iraqi Kurdistan’s aspirations of greater autonomy. On July 11, security forces loyal to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party seized the Kirkuk and Bai Hassan oil fields in Iraq, but those units may have done so without permission. Indeed, leaders from a rival party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, claim that the Kurdistan Regional Government was not consulted. Kirkuk Gov. Najmadin Karim, an ethnic Kurd aligned with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, even alleged that the occupation bypassed authority in Baghdad, violating federal standards on operations within Iraq’s disputed territories.
Barzani’s newfound control over the oil fields directly challenges the interests of his historical Kurdish rivals in eastern Iraq. Kirkuk province has long been directly influenced by outgoing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which has expanded its political and security presence throughout Kirkuk for years.
Leaders in Arbil continue to promote the formal integration of disputed regions into Iraqi Kurdistan. Aside from autonomous crude oil export options, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan increasingly finds itself at odds with Barzani’s party, which Turkey supports. Arbil continues to flirt with the prospect of Kurdish independence, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s influence in oil-rich Kirkuk province gives the party key leverage over Barzani. The deployment of unauthorized oil protection units may have been an attempt by Barzani to prevent future challenges from his newly emboldened rivals.
For the moment, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leaders seem hesitant to escalate the dispute. Both parties have larger issues to manage in the short term, such as confronting Sunni Arab militancy on their southern borders and making sure that another Kurd succeeds Talabani in Baghdad. The short-term value in consolidating a unified Kurdish front is to draw important energy and budgetary concessions from the Iraqi government.
The question of who controls Kirkuk’s hydrocarbon infrastructure may be the most incendiary factor that threatens to reignite the historical dispute between Iraqi Kurdistan’s political factions. Baghdad and its Shiite allies in Tehran want to limit Kurdish autonomy and expansionism. Internal Kurdish disputes give them an opportunity to divide the ruling elite in Arbil. Given the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s history of close ties with Tehran (and Baghdad to a lesser extent), these two Shiite powers will likely attempt to manipulate growing Kurdish divisions and challenge Barzani’s ambitions.
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA 6 hours ago
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s parliament Tuesday officially rescheduled its next session for early next week after criticism over initial plans for a five-week break, amid pressure for political leaders to agree on a new government that can confront militants who have overrun much of the country’s north and west.
Acting parliament speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh said in a statement that after considering the “national interests,” the next session will be on Sunday instead of Aug. 12.
He warned that any delay in forming a new government “will jeopardize Iraq’s security and democracy and will increase the suffering of Iraqis.” He also called on all political rivals to “shoulder their responsibilities and set aside their differences to fight terrorism to put Iraq back on democracy path.”
Al-Hafidh’s statement made official what he had said late Monday was a “preliminary agreement” among political leaders to skip the long break and move the next session up to Sunday.
Lawmakers are under pressure to quickly form a new government that can unite the country and roll back the insurgents. The legislature held its first session since April elections last week, but failed to agree on a new speaker, president and prime minister.
Despite the decision to meet Sunday instead of next month, it still appears unlikely that political leaders will be able to bridge their differences in time to settle on names for the top leadership posts — particularly the prime minister, with incumbent Nouri al-Maliki resisting a campaign to replace him.
Al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc won the largest share of seats in April’s election, securing 92 out of parliament’s 328 seats. But he is far short of the majority needed to govern, which means he needs allies to cobble together a coalition government.
His opponents — and many former allies — want him removed, accusing him of monopolizing power during his eight years in office and contributing to the current crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with Sunnis. But he has vowed he will not abandon his bid for a third consecutive term.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s deadlocked parliament on Monday postponed its next session until mid-August, prolonging the country’s political impasse despite urgent calls for a new government that can confront Sunni extremists who have overrun a large part of the country.
The new legislature held its first session since April elections last week, but failed to make any headway on selecting a new prime minister, president and speaker of parliament.
Lawmakers had been expected to meet Tuesday for a second session, but they called off that meeting since no progress was made over the past week untangling the political situation.
The parliament said in a statement Monday that “after discussions with the heads of the blocs and concerned parties” that the next session will be held instead on Aug. 12. It expressed hope that “another chance will be available for more dialogue and discussions to arrange that meeting.”
Under an informal system that took root after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, the prime minister’s job goes to a Shiite, the president’s post to a Kurd and the speaker of parliament’s chair to a Sunni.
The main point of contention right now is the post of prime minister, which holds most of the power in Iraq.
Incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, whose State of Law bloc won the largest share of seat in April’s election, has vowed he will not abandon his bid for a third consecutive term. But he didn’t win a majority in parliament and so needs allies to form a government, setting the stage for what now appear to be protracted political negotiations.
Al-Maliki is facing pressure to step aside, in part because many in the country accuse him of monopolizing power and contributing to the current crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with the country’s Sunni minority.
The militant offensive spearheaded by the Islamic State extremist group has tapped into the Sunni community’s grievances with al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. Sunnis complain of being marginalized and unfairly targeted by the security forces.
After its initial blitz, the insurgent onslaught has eased since overrunning most of Iraq’s Sunni-dominated areas. But fighting rages daily on several fronts across the country.
One of the most active zones is the Sunni-dominated region west of Baghdad, where on Monday a mortar shell landed near Iraqi troops during a raid on the village of Karma, killing Iraqi army 6th Division commander Maj. Gen. Najim Abdullah Ali.
Ali was overseeing the raid when the round exploded nearby, army spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim said.
Al-Maliki lamented Ali’s death, calling him a “holy warrior” who was “martyred in the battlefield as he was fighting the terrorists.”
Sunni militants seized control of the city of Fallujah, near Karma, and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi in January. The government has since reasserted its control of Ramadi, but Fallujah remains in insurgent hands.
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into a checkpoint in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, killing five policemen and three civilians, a police official said. He said 16 people were wounded.
A medical official confirmed the casualty figures.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.