Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has decided to postpone the presidential and legislative elections in the northern semi-autonomous region amid spiraling tensions with the Baghdad government in the wake of last month’s Kurdish independence referendum and a dire “threat of civil war” there.
The KRG’s Independent High Electoral Commission announced on Wednesday that it had “opted to suspend temporarily preparations for the November polls due to the current situation.”
The commission said it was up to the regional parliament to set a new date for elections, adding that it had not received any nominations for the presidential poll by the deadline.
The KRG’s elections commission had set October 3 as the last day to nominate candidates for the presidential election in the Kurdistan region.
Mohammad Tawfiq Rahim, the coordinator of diplomatic relations in the Movement for Change and a prominent rival of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, was the only candidate registered to run, but the commission ruled he had missed the deadline.
Barzani has repeatedly said he will not stand for another term.
Meanwhile, a senior leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has warned that the Kurdistan region may split, leading to a “civil war” that would prompt regional and international powers to intervene.
“There is a grave danger of the Kurdistan region splitting into two administrations. This is expected to cause civil war and regional and international interference,” Mala Bakhtiyar, the executive head of the PUK politburo, warned in a statement.
The referendum on secession of the Kurdistan region was held on September 25 despite strong opposition from the central government in Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq’s neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.
Following the vote, Baghdad imposed a ban on direct international flights to the Kurdish region and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales.
On October 12, an Iraqi government spokesman said Baghdad had set a series of conditions that the KRG needed to meet before any talks on the resolution of the referendum crisis could start.
“The KRG must first commit to Iraq’s unity. The local authorities in the [Kurdistan] region… must accept the sovereign authority of the federal government on… oil exports, [as well as] security and border protection, including land and air entry points,” the unnamed Iraqi official added.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has already demanded the annulment of the referendum.
During a recent press conference in Paris, Abadi said his government did not seek confrontation with Iraqi Kurds, but reiterated Baghdad’s position that the vote was illegal and that problems should be solved within the framework of Iraq’s constitution.