Court in Iraq orders arrest of Kurdistan VP Kosrat Rasul

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Kosrat Rasul (L) and Massoud Barzani (R) in Kirkuk on 12 September 2017Image source, AFP
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Kosrat Rasul (L) is close to Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani (R)

An Iraqi court has ordered the arrest of the vice-president of the Kurdistan Region for calling troops sent to Kirkuk this week "occupying forces".

A Supreme Judicial Council spokesman said the court believed Kosrat Rasul's remarks were an incitement to violence.

He made them in a statement condemning the withdrawal of Peshmerga fighters from Kirkuk and other disputed areas.

Baghdad launched an operation to retake them on Monday, three weeks after the Kurds held an independence referendum.

People living in areas under Kurdish control overwhelmingly backed secession but Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the vote illegal.

After the military operation concluded on Tuesday, Mr Abadi said the referendum was a "thing of the past" and offered "dialogue under the constitution".

The Kurdistan Region said it welcomed the call for dialogue on Thursday.

Kirkuk is an oil-rich province claimed by both the Kurds and the central government. It is thought to have a Kurdish majority but its provincial capital has large Arab and Turkmen populations.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of much of the province in 2014, when Islamic State (IS) militants swept across northern Iraq and the army collapsed.

Mr Rasul issued a statement on Wednesday that criticised his own Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party amid reports that other leaders had ordered Peshmerga under their control not to resist the Iraqi troops as they advanced into Kirkuk.

There was only one serious clash on the outskirts of the city on Monday, which is reported to have left between three and 11 combatants dead.

Mr Rasul said the territorial losses represented a "new Anfal for Kurdistan" - a reference to a campaign of genocide against Iraqi Kurds by Saddam Hussein.

Media caption,

Iraqi federal police advance towards disputed city of Kirkuk

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council said a court in Baghdad had issued an arrest warrant for Mr Rasul in connection with the statement.

"The court considers these comments as provocation against the armed forces, under Article 226 of the penal code," the spokesman added.

The offence can carry a jail term of up to seven years or a fine.

It is not clear if Iraqi security forces will attempt to act on the warrant because they do not operate inside the Kurdistan Region. However, the warrant could prevent Mr Rasul leaving the country.

Image source, AFP
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One Kurdish officials say 100,000 people had fled their homes in recent days

Meanwhile, the UN expressed concern about reports of the forced displacement of civilians, predominantly Kurds, from disputed areas.

The governor of the Kurdish-controlled province of Irbil told reporters that 18,000 families had fled their homes in recent days.

Senior Kurdish official Hemin Hawrami accused the Popular Mobilisation, a pro-government paramilitary force dominated by Iranian-backed Shia Arab militias, of being responsible for "looting and sectarian oppression".

The UN said it had received allegations that 150 houses in Tuz Khurmatu were burned by "armed groups", and that up to 11 homes belonging to Kurdish families and officials of Kurdish political parties were also reportedly blown up.