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Iraq’s Kurds deny PM accusations of harboring ISIS fighters - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Kurdish "peshmerga" troops walk during an intensive security deployment after clashes with militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Jalawla. (Reuters)

Kurdish “peshmerga” troops walk during an intensive security deployment after clashes with militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Jalawla. (Reuters)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Recent remarks by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in which he accused Erbil of harboring fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have provoked the ire of Kurdish politicians, who have dismissed the accusations as “unfounded.”

“It is unfortunate that the prime minister has descended to the level of Hanan Al-Fatlawi, the State of Law coalition MP, who has always levelled unfounded accusations at Kurds for no apparent reason, accusing Erbil of harboring [fighters from] ISIS,” former Kurdistan Alliance spokesman Moayad Tayeb told Asharq Al-Awsat.

In his weekly televised speech on Wednesday, Maliki lashed out at the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), branding its capital, Erbil, as being “a headquarters for ISIS, [the] Ba’ath [Party], and Al-Qaeda and terrorist operations.”

The accusation has provoked Kurdish lawmakers who have in turn accused Maliki of failing to deter Islamist fighters.

“ISIS is not in Erbil but . . . [is approaching] Baghdad, and if he [Maliki] wants to fight and expel it, it is but a stone’s throw away from him,” Tayeb added.

“The Kurdish movement has never cooperated with or harbored any terrorists even at the darkest stages of its struggle,” he said, adding, “This is known by everyone familiar with the history of the Kurds and their struggle.”

Tensions increased between Baghdad and Erbil after the Kurdish armed forces, known as the Peshmerga, drove ISIS from the city of Tikrit earlier this month and refused to leave the oil-rich city.

“[Kurds] are victims of terrorism and ISIS,” Tayeb added, maintaining that “every day we lose martyrs from the Peshmerga in confrontations with ISIS and terrorists forces.”

The Iraqi premier has recently come under fire after announcing his intention to run for a third term in office, a step that led the KRG to threaten to hold a public referendum on declaring independence.

“Unless the National Alliance replaces Maliki as their candidate for the premiership, we have to resort to a public referendum and seek autonomy from Iraq, because we can no longer participate in a government with Maliki as its head,” Tayeb said.

Meanwhile, KRG President Massoud Barzani has blamed Maliki for the dire security situation and political stalemate in Iraq.

Barzani blasted Maliki on Tuesday for what he described as “an individualistic and oppressive approach that has excluded Sunnis,” calling on Iraq’s “Sunni and Shi’a parties and electoral blocs to launch a political initiative in order for Iraq to recover.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Iraqiya List MP Hamid Al-Mutlaq said his coalition had already launched an initiative through its leader Iyad Allawi “to rescue Iraq and get it safely out of this series of crises it is suffering from.”

According to Mutlaq, Maliki’s insistence on remaining in power for a third term and his rejection of other political groups putting forward their own candidates may end up delaying the first parliamentary session, “a step which represents a constitutional breach.”

He added: “The solution lies in a comprehensive national initiative that includes true reconciliation and the participation of everybody without exclusion or marginalization. Otherwise, all possibilities will be open.”