Iraqi Kurdistan president hints at
referendum, in swipe at Baghdad
March 21, 2012
Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous
northern Kurdistan region in Iraq, addresses the
media after his meeting with Shiite leader Ammar
al-Hakim of the influential Supreme Iraqi Islamic
Council in Erbil, the Kurdish capital of Kurdistan
region, on March 17, 2012. Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed
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ERBIL-Hewlęr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq',
— The leader of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region
delivered a sharp denunciation of the central
government on Tuesday that included a veiled threat
to reconsider relations with Baghdad.
Kurdish President Massoud Barzani has steadily
ratcheted up his
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government in recent
weeks amid disputes over oil, land, budget funds and
power-sharing in Baghdad.
Tuesday's speech marking the Kurdish new year Newroz
holiday appeared to raise the stakes, with language
suggesting he could seek a referendum of some kind
on the Kurdish region's relations with Baghdad -
although he stopped far short of breaking a taboo by
making explicit reference to independence.
"It is time to say enough is enough," Barzani said
in an official translation of his remarks on his
"The current status of affairs in unacceptable to us
and I call on all Iraqi political leaders to
urgently try and find a solution - otherwise we will
return to our people and will decide on whatever
course of action that our people deem appropriate."
The comments could be seen as a veiled code for
seeking independence, since most Kurds say they
would vote to secede from Iraq if given a chance.
KURDISH REGION FLOURISHING
The Kurdish region has flourished as the only part
of Iraq to have avoided the extreme violence that
followed the U.S.-British invasion that toppled
Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Barzani's government receives a fixed percentage of
Iraq's oil export wealth and maintains its own
While Baghdad and the rest of Iraq still have
electricity for just a few hours a day and have
barely seen even the most basic reconstruction after
decades of sanctions and war,www.ekurd.net
the Kurdish region is enjoying a massive building
boom. Barzani rules with a firm grip.
In his speech, Barzani repeated a litany of Kurdish
complaints, some of them specifically directed
against Maliki for consolidating his hold on power
"There is an attempt to establish a one-million
strong army whose loyalty is only to a single
person," he said.
"Where in the world can the same person be the prime
minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces,
the minister of defence, the minister of interior,
the chief of intelligence and the head of the
national security council?" he said, referring to
powerful posts that Maliki has yet to allocate under
a power-sharing agreement.
He accused the central government of refusing to
resolve a territorial dispute over the oil city of
Kirkuk, which is outside the Kurdish region but
regarded by Kurds as their historical homeland.
Funds due from the central government for Kurdish
security forces have been "embezzled", Barzani said.
The central government was opposing Kurdish oil
deals to prevent the Kurds from reaching their own
Iraq's Kurdish political parties have played the
role of kingmaker in Baghdad since the fall of
Saddam, and were instrumental in forming the
coalition of that kept Maliki's Shi'ite religious
parties in power after an inconclusive election in
The coalition is led by Maliki's Shi'ite alliance
but also includes Kurds and Sunnis. It came under
immediate strain when U.S. troops pulled out in
On the eve of the withdrawal of the last U.S.
troops, Maliki's government issued an arrest warrant
for the country's most senior Sunni Arab politician,
Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who immediately
fled to the Kurdish region.
Barzani has refused to hand him over to Baghdad for
trial, saying the criminal case has political
implications that need to be resolved.
"Iraq is facing a serious crisis. We have tried our
utmost to prevent Iraq from descending into a
sectarian conflict and we have consistently avoided
taking sides in this conflict," he said in Tuesday's
"It is very unfortunate that a small number of
people in Baghdad have imposed themselves and
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