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Police Deploy in Kirkuk as Tensions Rise Before Kurdish Vote

Police Deploy in Kirkuk as Tensions Rise Before Kurdish VotePolice Deploy in Kirkuk as Tensions Rise Before Kurdish Vote

Police deployed overnight in the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk to prevent any outbreak of ethnic violence ahead of a referendum on Kurdish independence strongly opposed by the Baghdad government, local residents said.

The Kurdish region plans to hold the Sept. 25 vote despite an Iraqi government warning it is “playing with fire” and US declarations the move could undermine the fight against the self-styled Islamic State militants. The referendum could raise particular tension in Kirkuk, where Kurds vie with Turkmen and Arabs for power, Reuters reported.

Kurdish security and the city police erected checkpoints across Kirkuk after a Kurd was killed in a clash with the guards of a Turkmen political party office in the city.

Two other Kurds and a Turkmen security guard were wounded in the clash that broke out when a Kurdish convoy celebrating the referendum, carrying Kurdish flags, drove by the Turkmen party office, according to security sources. The Kurdish dead and wounded were among those celebrating, they said.

Turkey, which has put troops and tanks on exercises close to the border with the Kurdish region, has long seen itself as the protector of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. When Iraqi Kurds raised their flag over the city in April, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declared that Kirkuk could not be a Kurdish city.

Turkish soldiers, scheduled for maneuvers the day after the referendum is due, were spotted digging in at a point about two km (a mile) from the frontier.

But Ankara has cultivated close political and business ties with the Kurdish Regional Government, and would be loath to disrupt commerce, especially in oil, through any intervention.

Friction between the Kurdish autonomous region and Baghdad has simmered for years. The Kurds have complained that the central government has not paid the salaries of civil servants in Kurdistan, while Baghdad has strongly opposed Kurdish sales of oil without its consent.

On Tuesday, Kirkuk’s provincial council voted to reject an Iraqi parliament vote last week to dismiss governor Najmaddin Kareem.

The decision to remove him came after Kirkuk —claimed by both the Baghdad and regional Kurdish governments— voted to take part in the referendum.

 

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