Tensions rising in Northern Iraq
Iraq’s Kurdish region has sent reinforcements, including 125 tanks, to the city of Kirkuk, where its troops are involved in a standoff with the Iraqi army ahead of today’s meeting between the two sides in Baghdad.
Relations between Baghdad and the KRG have been fraught since the establishment of a new military command, the Tigris Operation Command, covering the territory of northern Iraq and over various other long-running disputes, including how to share the region’s oil wealth. More Kurdish troops and tanks were mobilized toward the disputed areas on the weekend, the deputy minister for Kurdish military affairs said late Nov. 24, adding that they would hold their positions unless Iraqi forces made a move.
“If they overstep the line, we will strike them,” Anwar Haji Osman said. According to the Anatolia news agency, an anonymous source in the Peshmarga Ministry said they blocked the Iraqi army’s access to the Kirkuk road. “We won’t enter Kirkuk but we won’t allow [the Iraqi army] to enter either.” Armored vehicles, including 125 tanks, have been deployed around Kirkuk, Doğan news agency reported. On the diplomatic front, military leaders from both sides will meet today at the Defense Ministry in Baghdad. Iraq’s Parliamentary speaker said Nov. 24 that “significant progress” has been made on resolving the crisis, a day after he met with KRG President Masoud Barzani.
The KRG claims the Tigris Operations Command is a threat to them and an attempt by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to seize control of the oil-rich territories along the internal border that demarcates the Kurdish region from the rest of Iraq. Al-Maliki says the Dijla Operations Command is necessary to keep order in one of the most volatile parts of the country.
Meanwhile, millions of Shiites flooded the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala yesterday for the peak of Ashura rituals, which have been largely spared the attacks that struck pilgrims in past years.
A bomb wounded 10 pilgrims in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, but it was the first such attack since a car bomb against pilgrims killed three people on Nov. 17. Karbala provincial Governor Amal al-Din al-Har told Agence France-Presse that about three million pilgrims, including 200,000 foreigners, travelled to Karbala for the rituals.