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Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani confirms he is stepping down

  • 30 Oct 2017

Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani confirms he will step down on November 1, and asks the parliament to fill the vacancy in power in northern Iraq as Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga start a new round of talks to resolve conflict in the region.

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani speaks during a press conference on September 24, 2017 in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. AFP

Masoud Barzani, the president of the northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, told a closed-door session of parliament Sunday he was stepping down amid the fall-out from a controversial independence referendum.

"After November 1, I will no longer exercise my functions, and I reject any extension of my mandate," the 71-year-old said in a letter read out to parliament in Iraq's Erbil.

"Changing the law on the presidency of Kurdistan or prolonging the presidential term is not acceptable," said the architect of the September 25 non-binding independence vote.

"I ask parliament to meet to fill the vacancy in power, to fulfil the mission and to assume the powers of the presidency of Kurdistan", said the letter.

Sunday's parliamentary session was held behind closed doors because of "sensitive questions" that would be discussed, deputies said earlier.

Officials from Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) had told journalists ahead of the session that the letter to be read out would announce he was stepping aside.

TRT World's Nina Nemr reports:

Political tensions

Sunday's parliamentary session was postponed several times amid political tensions.

Dozens of men rushed at the parliament building late on Sunday, hitting out at journalists, media reports and MPs reported. Police fired in the air to disperse them.

The opposition Goran party which had sought Barzani's resignation and a "government of national salvation" opposes the redistribution of the presidency's powers.

That plan was proposed by the major Kurdish parties, Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its rival Kurdish Patriotic Union (PUK).

Barzani "symbolises the failure of Kurdish politics, and the only thing left for him to do is to issue a public apology," Goran MP Rabun Maarouf said before the session began.

Second round of talks begin

Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on Sunday started a second round of talks to resolve a conflict over control of northern Iraq's border crossings, Iraqi state TV said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi on Friday ordered a 24-hour suspension of military operations against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. The two sides held a first round of talks on Friday and Saturday.

Abadi said the talks are meant to prepare for the peaceful deployment of Iraqi troops at the border crossings with Turkey, Iran and Syria in Iraq's northern region.

Clashes broke out between the two sides after Iraqi forces captured the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from the Peshmerga, in an offensive ordered by Abadi after the Kurds held a non-binding independence referendum in northern Iraq on Sept 25.

Although Kirkuk was included in last month’s non-binding referendum, it is a “disputed region” that is not part of the semi-autonomous region that constitutionally forms part of the KRG territories.

"The second round of talks about deploying federal troops in the disputed areas has started," State TV said, giving no further details.

Abadi wants to take control of the border crossings, including one in the Fish-Khabur area through which an oil export pipeline crosses into Turkey, carrying Iraqi and Kurdish crude oil.

The KRG on Wednesday proposed an immediate ceasefire, a suspension of the referendum result and "starting an open dialogue with the federal government based on the Iraqi constitution" - a call rejected by Baghdad.

The multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, which lies outside the KRG's official boundaries, fell to Iraqi forces without much resistance on Oct. 16.

The retaking of Kirkuk by Iraqi forces was a major financial blow to  KRG President Masoud Barzani since it halved the region's oil export revenue.

Speaking in Geneva on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was "disappointed that the parties have been unable to reach an entirely peaceful resolution" and that he had encouraged Abadi to accept the KRG "overtures for talks on the basis of the Iraqi constitution."

Abadi demanded on Thursday that the Kurds declare their referendum void, rejecting the KRG offer to suspend its independence push to resolve a crisis through talks. 

"We won't accept anything but its cancellation and the respect of the constitution," he said in a statement during a visit to Tehran.

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