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 Kurdistan Peshmerga troops fire on Iraqi army helicopter in dispute areas

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Kurdistan Peshmerga troops fire on Iraqi army helicopter in dispute areas  19.12.2012  







 
Photo: Ekurd.net/US Army photo See Related Articles
December 19, 2012

KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region,— Troops from Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan opened fire on an Iraqi army helicopter on Tuesday, underscoring tensions between Baghdad's Arab-led central government and the Kurdish region, officials said.

Iraq's government and self-ruled Kurdistan last month both sent troops from their respective armies to reinforce positions around towns in (Kurdish areas outside Kurdistan region) disputed areas where they both claim control as part of a broader feud over oil and territory.

Kurdistan Peshmerga officials said on Tuesday they fired on an Iraqi military helicopter near the Kurdish town of Sikanyan just north of the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, to keep the aircraft from taking surveillance pictures of their military positions.

"We opened fire at an Iraqi military helicopter flying over our forces," said Anwar Othman, deputy minister for Kurdish military affairs. "This is a clear message that next time our response will be tougher."

A local mayor in the area confirmed the incident. But there was no immediate response from the Iraqi central government.

The growing rift between Baghdad and Kurdistan is the most challenging test to Iraq's federal unity since the last American troops left a year ago, removing a buffer of U.S. military presence from an area long seen as a flashpoint for conflict.

News of the clash came just hours after authorities announced Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, had been hospitalized following a stroke that had left him in critical but stable condition.

A veteran Kurdish politician, Talabani has been a key mediator between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government who are growing further apart over how to control oil wealth and the disputed territories between their two regions.

Iraqi armed forces and Kurdish Peshmerga have faced off before only to back off before any major confrontation and U.S. officials have been in talks with both regions to try to ease tensions between them.

The ethnically mixed, disputed areas are a swathe of land separating Iraq from the territory administered by ethnic Kurds in the north,www.ekurd.net and they include the sensitive city of Kirkuk, which sits atop some of the world's largest oil reserves.

Bombings and attacks across those areas killed more than 30 people on Sunday and Monday in what authorities said was an attempt by insurgents to stoke Arab-Kurdish tensions.

Violence in Iraq has eased since the height of sectarian attacks in 2006-2007. But Sunni Islamists still carry out bombings nearly a decade after the American-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is one of the most disputed areas by the regional government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

The Kurds are seeking to integrate the province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically a Kurdish city, it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region,
www.ekurd.net the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Christians and Turkmen, lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas through having back its Kurdish inhabitants and repatriating the Arabs relocated in the city during the former regime’s time to their original provinces in central and southern Iraq.

The article also calls for conducting a census to be followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having it as an independent province.

The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry.

The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and 10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the city. 

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, Reuters | Ekurd.net | Agencies 

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