BAGHDAD - Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces are bracing for conflict
in the disputed city of Khanaqin in the most serious threat of clashes
between Arabs and Kurds since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
delegation flew from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish regional
government, to Baghdad at the weekend to try to resolve the crisis. The
two main Kurdish parties are allied and form part of Iraq's coalition
However, Massoud Barzani, the president of the
Kurdistan region, and leader of the Kurdish Democratic party, said Iraq
was still living under the influence of Saddam's regime and the central
government was not serious about sharing power with Kurds. He claimed
many military decisions were made without consultations with General
Babakir Zebari, a Kurd who is the Iraqi army's chief of staff.
Zebari, apparently torn between competing loyalties, visited Khanaqin
on Monday and was quoted in the Baghdad media as saying Iraqi troops
had the right to launch operations in the area.
The crisis has
grown since July when the Iraqi government ordered peshmerga forces to
withdraw to Kurdistan from Diyala. It also told the two main Kurdish
parties to move out of the numerous government buildings in Diyala
which they had taken over when Saddam's regime fell.
president, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd and the two Kurdish parties have
been firm allies of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki's Shia-led
government since its inception. But on Sunday, the government in
Baghdad shocked its Kurdish partners by announcing it would send
finance ministry auditors to check customs revenues levied by Kurdish
officials on the Turkish border. Transit traffic and smuggling are the
main sources of revenue for some Kurds.
Parts of northern
Diyala are claimed by Kurds as part of their ancient homeland. An
estimated 85% of the population of Khanaqin, which is situated on a
dusty plateau close to Iran, are Kurds and Kurdish leaders insist that
Khanaqin must remain under peshmerga control.
"The Iraqi army
still wants to enter, and the peshmerga is present," said Ibrahim
Bajelani, a Kurd who heads the provincial council. "Everyone is on
edge. If the Iraqi army tries to enter without prior agreement, we
can't be held responsible for the consequences."