ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Baghdad-appointed Governor of Kirkuk Rakan Saeed on Saturday said he had approached the Iraqi federal government about opening the Kirkuk airport to civilians as its current one is under the control of Iraqi forces.
On Oct. 16, Iraqi forces and the Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia attacked and took over the province of Kirkuk and other disputed areas in response to the Sep. 25 referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region. Kirkuk took part in the vote, which saw an overwhelming majority support secession.
There is one airport in Kirkuk which was used as a military base by Americans after the fall of the former regime in 2003 and maintained a military status since. Iraqi forces currently occupy it.
Authorities in Kirkuk have repeatedly called on the Iraqi government to open a civilian airport in the oil-rich, multi-ethnic city. Local officials claim Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has agreed to build an airport as Iraq struggles to attract foreign investment.
“The administration of Kirkuk continues to push forward the establishment of a civilian airport, raising the issue with the federal government and relevant parties,” said Saeed during a meeting with Turkmen tribes. The acting-Governor did not mention if Baghdad had already accepted his request.
Rakan Saeed was appointed Governor of Kirkuk after the central government dismissed the province’s Kurdish Governor, Najmaldin Karim. Since then, Kirkuk has been overtaken by Iraqi security forces, notably the controversial Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), commonly known as the Hashd al-Shaabi.
Tensions in Kirkuk remain high as security incidents are on the rise. Saeed also called on the Iraqi government to send additional troops to Kirkuk to “enhance security and stability,” according to a statement issued by his press office.
Kirkuk, home to Turkmen, Arabs, Christians, and a Kurdish majority, was under the protection of the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces since 2014, after the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq and the collapse of the Iraqi army.
Without mentioning the Peshmerga, Saeed praised the efforts of “counter-terrorism forces, the army, the police, the PMF and tribal forces, and the intelligence apparatus” in Kirkuk. He also pointed out that “injustice by law is better than allowing for chaos” to develop, referencing the need for legal measures to be taken to address problems related to Kirkuk.
The statement is likely to raise concerns among officials in the Kurdistan Region who have already criticized Baghdad for its silence and inaction over abuses and human rights violations in the disputed province of Kirkuk and called for the international community to intervene.