20 January 2020

Political crisis escalates in Iraq's Kurdistan region

KONFRONTASI-Kurdish security forces stopped the speaker of parliament in Iraq's Kurdish north from entering its capital on Monday in an escalating political crisis destabilizing the region at war with Islamic State militants.

Speaker Yousif Mohammed's personal assistant said forces loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) had turned him back on the road from Sulaimaniyah to Erbil, where the regional parliament is located.

The KDP, which controls Erbil, accuses the Gorran party to which the speaker belongs of provoking violent protests in which five people died.

"He has been prevented by KDP forces and he's now returned (to Sulaimaniyah)," said the speaker's personal assistant Daroun Rahim. "It's a very dangerous development."

The move came after protesters attacked and torched several offices of the KDP in Sulaimaniyah province in the worst unrest the relatively stable autonomous region has seen for years.

Gorran, which is based in Sulaimaniyah and enjoys popularity there, said late on Sunday it had been informed by the KDP that its ministers in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) should not return to work.

Senior KDP official Hemin Hawrami appeared to confirm that on Twitter, saying Gorran was "no longer in government".

The crisis is reinforcing old divisions in the region, which used to have two separate administrations, one run by the KDP in Erbil and Duhok, and the other controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Sulaimaniyah.

The KDP said the PUK had failed to protect its Sulaimaniyah offices from attack and vacated several of them over the weekend. Meanwhile, the KDP shut down offices of Gorran's TV channel KNN in the cities of Erbil and Duhok.

Sulaimaniyah-based Kurdish media network NRT also said its offices in Erbil and Duhok had been taken over by security services who "forced" its staff to leave Erbil through the Degala checkpoint.[mr/reuters]

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