Iraq: PUK drawn into sectarian warfare

Iraq’s northern Kurdish autonomous zone, heretofore an island of relative stability, now also appears to be infected by the sectarian strife tearing apart the rest of the country. This attack took place in Basra, but the struggle for control of northern Kirkuk was at issue. From Reuters, Aug. 11:

Gunmen storm Kurdish offices in southern Iraq

KERBALA – Gunmen angered by criticism of a Shi’ite cleric ransacked offices of President Jalal Talabani’s Kurdish party in southern Iraq on Friday after a newspaper claimed the cleric was fanning sectarian tensions.

Jameel Zangana, a senior official with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Kerbala, said gunmen smashed windows and doors of the PUK office in the city.

In the nearby city of Kut, police said one guard was injured during a similar attack by about 50 men on the PUK office.

The attacks came after Fadhila — a Shi’ite party powerful in the southern Iraqi city of Basra — demanded an apology from Talabani for an article in a PUK-owned newspaper accusing its top cleric, Sheikh al-Yaqoubi, of “pouring oil on fire to inflame a war between Arab Shi’ites and Kurds” in Kirkuk.

Kurds claim the oil-rich city, but it is also home to many Turkmen, Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs.

Fadhila spokesman Sabah al-Saeidi said on Thursday that the article, published in the PUK’s al-Ittihad newspaper on Tuesday, had insulted the cleric and warranted redress.

“The party demands an apology from the president of the (PUK) and to publish it in the same newspaper which did wrong to Sheikh Yaqoubi,” Saeidi told a news conference.

Pictures of the PUK office in Kut showed relatively light damage, with windows broken, books and documents swept onto the floor and the remains of a fire in front of the building.

See our last posts on Iraq and Kurdistan.

Note also that the Syrian Kurds are being drawn into the Lebanon war.