BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister on Monday called for calm in the self-ruled northern Kurdish region after rioting the previous night following the Kurdish regional president’s decision to effectively step down.
In his statement, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the central government is closely monitoring what he described as “attempts to create chaos and disorder” in Irbil and Dahuk, two cities in the Kurdish region.
On Sunday, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani told the regional parliament in a letter read to lawmakers that he would not seek re-election after last month’s controversial Kurdish independence referendum that he had spearheaded sparked a crisis with Baghdad and neighboring countries.
As the Kurdish regional parliament was discussing Barzani’s request to have his powers dissolved, dozens of his supporters rioted outside, apparently angry over the developments and trying to express their support for him.
The protesters broke into the assembly and attacked lawmakers and journalists until the police subdued them. They also attacked an office of a rival political party and an opposition TV station.
The September referendum has left the Iraqi Kurdish region increasingly isolated. Within weeks, a backlash from the vote revealed Barzani had miscalculated. The Kurdish forces lost nearly half of the territory that had controlled during the war against the Islamic State group.
The region’s airspace was closed to international commercial flights, Turkey threatened the use of military force and both Tehran and Ankara threatened to close border crossings vital to the land-locked region.
Barzani in a televised speech Sunday addressed the Kurdish region, his first appearance since the crisis erupted.
He blamed the central government in Baghdad, which had dismissed the Kurdish vote as illegal, accusing it of escalating tensions. He also lambasted rival Kurdish political parties and said they were guilty of “treason,” referring to Patriotic Union of Kurdistan which had allegedly struck a deal with Baghdad to withdraw Kurdish forces from the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, retaken by Iraqi forces earlier this month.
Barzani’s request, which was approved by the regional parliament late Sunday, was to distribute his presidential powers among the Kurdish prime minister, the Kurdish parliament and the judiciary.
The move prompted speculation on whether it was Barzani’s exit from politics but his senior assistant, Hemin Hawrami, told The Associated Press on Sunday that Barzani “will stay in Kurdish politics and lead the high political council,” though as of Nov. 1, he will no longer be president of the region.
Kurdish presidential elections that were due in November have been postponed indefinitely.
“We call for adhering to the law and for calm,” al-Abadi said from Baghdad, adding that the “political differences” on display in the Kurdish region should not negatively impact the Kurdish citizens of Iraq.