BAGHDAD: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Wednesday accused Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region of harboring jihadists, further ratcheting up tensions despite calls for leaders to unite against a Sunni militant offensive.
A jihadist-led offensive that started a month ago and overran swathes of five provinces north and west of Baghdad has displaced hundreds of thousands and heaped pressure on Maliki as he bids for a third term.
But he potentially damaged his efforts to retain the post by turning on Kurdish leaders based in the northern city of Irbil and accusing them of hosting militant groups behind the onslaught.
“Honestly, we cannot be silent over this and we cannot be silent over Irbil being a headquarters for Daesh, and the Baath, and Al-Qaeda and terrorist operations,” Maliki said on television, without elaborating.
Daesh is the former Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria militant group, which Kurdish forces are in fact fighting against in the north, while Baath refers to the banned party of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, whose regime killed tens of thousands of Kurds.
“They [militant groups] will lose, and their host will lose also,” Maliki said .
The comments will likely bolster supporters of independence for the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, which plans to hold a referendum on the issue.
Though Kurdish parliamentary backing is not necessary to form a government, the Kurds are seen as crucial to maintaining a united front against insurgents led by the ISIS.
Maliki’s remarks were the latest example of persistent disunity among politicians despite calls from international powers and influential preachers for Iraq’s leaders to form a government, more than two months after elections.
A parliamentary session last week ended in disarray as lawmakers traded heckles and threats and walked out.
Leaders typically agree key positions in a package, with the post of speaker generally going to a Sunni Arab, the premiership to a Shiite Arab and the presidency to a Kurd.
Despite telling AFP in 2011 that he would not seek a third term, Maliki vowed last week he would not bow to mounting pressure to step aside and allow a broader consensus government.
In a statement late Tuesday, Massoud Barzani, leader of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, launched a withering attack on Maliki, saying his eight years in office had brought disaster to Iraq and set the stage for its latest conflict.
“Today a dangerous precedent is being set, of feeding a chauvinistic campaign of ethnic hatred based on the distortion of reality ... to serve political objectives and narrow partisan interests of the person who has caused Iraq to be led from failure to failure and crisis to crisis,” he said.
“We have said we are not prepared under any circumstances to accept for our will to be bent, and go back to square one and face what reminds us of the policies that drowned Kurdistan in seas of the blood of its civilians and turned their homeland to ruins and mass graves,” Barzani said in his statement, referring to years of oppression under Hussein.
“That is what we have clearly faced throughout the period of abuse of power during the two disappointing terms of the prime minister.”