SULAIMANIYA, Iraq, (Reuters) – Kurdish security forces and Iraqi police clashed in Iraq’s northeastern Diyala province on Saturday, killing one member of each group, officials on both sides said.
Towns on the border between Diyala and the largely autonomous northern Kurdistan region are disputed by Kurds and the central government and have emerged as a flashpoint in their tense relationship in recent months.
Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces, said one Kurdish security forces member and one member of the national Iraqi police had died in clashes after a dispute at a Kurdish party’s headquarters in the town of Jalawla.
The account was confirmed by a senior Diyala provincial police source.
Tensions have been rising between Iraqi security forces and Kurds in the area in recent weeks. In August, most of a brigade of 2,000 Kurdish troops, known as Peshmerga, who had patrolled ethnically mixed parts of Diyala withdrew to the edge of the Kurdish region under pressure from the central government.
Iraq and the Kurdish regional government this month resolved a standoff over the control of the town of Khanaqin, also home to Arabs and Kurds, and close to Jalawla.
The Iraqi army had wanted to enter Khanaqin to stamp government authority on the area in August. But Peshmerga forces patrolling the town had refused to withdraw and thousands of Kurds staged protests as the army approached.
Kurdish and Arab politicians ended the impasse by agreeing to withdraw both the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga.
Diyala, with large populations of ethnic Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen divided into Sunni and Shi’ite religious groups, has also remained a battleground for Sunni Islamist al Qaeda.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government wants the Peshmerga out of parts of Iraq not under Kurdish control. That angers the Kurds who say their role in combating al Qaeda in Diyala has gone unnoticed.