Iraqi Kurds postpone elections amid tensions with Baghdad
ARBIL - Parliament in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region decided Tuesday to hold legislative elections in eight months after they were delayed amid tensions with the central government in Baghdad over disputed territories.
Regional legislative and presidential elections had both been due on November 1 but were delayed after Baghdad seized a swathe of territory from Kurdish forces following an independence vote.
There was no immediate word on a new date for a presidential election.
"The Kurdistan parliament decided... to postpone the parliamentary elections in the autonomous region by eight months," Islamic Union of Kurdistan parliamentarian Bahzad Zebari said.
Farsat Sofi of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of long-time Kurdish leader Massud Barzani said parliament would choose the date for legislative and presidential elections.
The elections were originally set for just over a month after a September 25 referendum in the Kurdish areas which resulted in a massive "yes" for independence.
The referendum, set in motion by Barzani, was strongly opposed by Baghdad.
Iraqi forces last week swept into the oil-rich Kirkuk province in the north, restoring it and Kurdish-held parts of Nineveh and Diyala provinces to central government control.
The rapid Kurdish retreat triggered recriminations among Kurdish politicians and prompted the regional parliament to postpone both elections.
"Parliament has decided to freeze the activities of the Kurdistan presidency," Zebari said on Tuesday.
This body includes Barzani, his vice-president Kosrat Rasul of KDP rival the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the head of the presidential cabinet, Fuad Hussein.
Its freezing, and the fact that parliament did not extend its mandate again, represent a major blow to Barzani.
On Sunday, Iraqi Kurdistan's main opposition party called for Barzani to step down after the loss of Kurdish-controlled territory.
Shoresh Haji of the Goran movement, which holds 24 out of 111 seats in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament, said both Barzani and Rasul should quit.
"The Kurdistan region's president and his deputy no longer have any legitimacy and should resign," he said.
Haji called for the creation of a "national salvation government" to prepare for dialogue with Baghdad and organise new elections.
The mandate of Barzani, the first and only elected president of the autonomous Kurdish region, expired in 2013.
It was extended for two years and then continued in the chaos that followed the Islamic State group's sweeping offensive across Iraq in 2014.
Under the autonomous region's laws, it was Barzani who had set general elections for November 1.
Tuesday's vote now means that parliament will decide the new electoral calendar, several parliamentarians said.
A month after scoring a major victory in the independence referendum, Barzani now finds himself increasingly isolated both at home and abroad.
The United States, a key ally of both Baghdad and Kurdish forces in the battle against IS, opposed the non-binding referendum, as did nations including Iraq's neighbours Iran and Turkey.