Iraq: army, Peshmerga in stand-off at Kirkuk

An ongoing stand-off between an elite force of Iraq's national army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces around the contested northern city of Kirkuk led to skirmishes that left two dead and several wounded at the village of Tuz Khurmatu this week. The army's Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command (DOC), launched in June by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, was ostensibly sent to put down the remnants of insurgency in Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahaddin governates. But local Kurdish leaders—including Kirkuk governor Najmaddin Karim, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—charge that the real aim of the deployment is to prevent Kirkuk governate from be annexed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), now made up of the governorates of Erbil (also Arbil or Irbil), Slemani (Sulaymaniya) and Duhok. (See map.) A referendum on the future of Kirkuk, mandated by Aritcle 140 of Iraq's constitution, has been repeatedly put off by the central government.

Rawand Mala Mahmoud, deputy head of the PUK's Kirkuk office, said: "Dijla Command is an effort to re-Arabize the area and to expand the authority of the Iraqi Army in Kirkuk." Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, who is also longtime boss of the PUK, has left Baghdad and returned to Sulaimani in protest of Maliki’s actions. He questions the legality of the Dijla Command, noting that Maliki did not seek parliamentary consent for its creation, as mandated by the constitution. Thousands of Peshmarga troops have been dispatched to Kirkuk governate following the deployment of the Dijla force.

The other major political faction in the KRG, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has pledged unity against Maliki's move. But Maliki's advisor Ali Musawi questioned the legality of the Peshmerga deployment in the disputed area: "If the DOC is unconstitutional, then let His Excellency Talabani resort to constitutional methods to stop it." (Kurdish Globe, Nov. 22; Kurdish Globe, Gulf News, Nov. 21; Rudaw, AP, Nov. 20; PRESS TV, Nov. 18; Rudaw, Nov. 15; Rudaw, Nov. 5)

  1. Kirkuk suicide bomb targets Kurdish party
    Two car bombs shattered a building housing the local headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Kirkuk on Jan. 16, killing at least 19 people and wounding more than 200. A third bomb at a nearby facility used by Kurdish security forces killed at least four more people. (NYT, Jan. 16)

  2. Kirkuk suicide bomb targets police HQ

    At least 16 people were killed as suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a police HQ in Kirkuk Feb. 3. Officials said militants tried to seize the compound after a bomb exploded at the gates, but were unsuccessful. A police chief was hurt. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. (BBC News, Feb. 3)