Kurdish president withdraws from independence dispute

Kurdish president withdraws from independence dispute

After setback in fight for independent kurdish state, iraqi minority president massud barsani plans to retreat.

"I have not accepted under any conditions to lose my mandate," he said this sunday in a televised speech. Barsani to be elected after his mandate expires on 1. November to step down from the highest post in the autonomous region of northern iraq after more than twelve years in office. He himself will remain in kurdistan as a peshmerga fighter.

Barsani had miscalculated the iraqi kurds’ independence referendum in late september. Although an overwhelming majority of more than 92 percent voted for the secession of the kurdish regions from iraq. But the central government in baghdad, which rejected the vote and called for its result to be annulled, subsequently cracked down hard on erbil.

The iraqi army and allied shiite militias advanced into areas that the kurds had taken under their control about three years ago. These are regions to which both the central government and the kurds lay claim, including the oil-rich province of kirkuk. The kurdish peshmerga fighters withdrew from many areas without a fight. But there were still fights in places until the end. As an additional measure, baghdad would like to ban international flights to kurdistan.

In his televised speech, barsani accused the central government of using the referendum as a pretext for a long-planned campaign against the kurds. "If baghdad’s plan is to wipe out the kurdistan region, we will not allow it," he said. Thousands of kurds are prepared to defend themselves and their "nation", he said. He sharply criticized the U.S. For its silence while iraqi troops attacked the kurds with american weapons.

In a secret meeting this evening, the members of parliament in erbil agreed to distribute barsani’s power among the parliament, government and judiciary of the autonomous region. Discussion had to be interrupted at times due to major tensions between the factions. Barsani had previously announced his withdrawal in a letter to parliament. He wrote that the deputies should take care of the power transfer and not allow a political vacuum to exist.

Emotions also reportedly ran high outside the house of representatives. Dozens of demonstrators had stormed part of parliament shouting slogans against barsani’s opponents. No casualties were initially reported. Outside parliament, security forces fired warning shots into the air, eyewitnesses reported.

Barsani’s withdrawal could ease the conflict with baghdad, as his relationship with the central government of prime minister haidar al-abadi is in serious disarray. Delegations from baghdad and erbil had already met on saturday to resolve disputes over negotiations. The iraqi army wants to take control of the border in the north of the country as well.

Barsani’s eight-year term should have ended in 2013. But even after a two-year extension by the parliament he remained in office. The reason given was the fight against the terrorist militia islamic state (IS), which until a few months ago controlled large parts of northern iraq. Lastly, the presidents announced for 1. November had been postponed by eight months.

The kurds enjoyed extensive autonomy rights in northern iraq. They are an important partner of the west in the fight against IS. Germany and other states support the kurds with weapons. They also train peshmerga fighters.

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