ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The office of Najmaldin Karim, the former Governor of the disputed province of Kirkuk, late on Tuesday rejected claims that the Kurdish leader had been arrested at the Beirut International Airport earlier that day.
Local media, citing an unknown source, reported that Karim was detained in the capital upon landing. The source purported that the move had come on the basis of legal complaints lodged against the Baghdad-ousted governor in Iraqi courts.
“The news is far from the truth and Dr. Najmaldin Karim has gone on a trip outside the country on regular and diplomatic work and will return to Kurdistan next week,” a statement from Karim’s office however read.
The statement also noted that such ”false reports” aim “to shift the attention of the public opinion on all issues currently plaguing the province of Kirkuk.”
Karim served as the Governor of Kirkuk from 2011 until Oct. 2017, before he was ousted from his post by the federal government of Iraq for supporting and including the disputed province in the Kurdistan Region’s Sept. 25 referendum on independence, which saw 93 percent favoring statehood.
Karim’s removal came with an arrest warrant issued against him by the federal government of Iraq.
However, many still see him as the legitimate Governor of Kirkuk as he was the last governor to be elected by the Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC). The current acting Governor of Kirkuk, Rakan Saeed al-Jabouri, was appointed directly by Baghdad and has little support from the KPC.
The people of Kirkuk long affirmed that under Karim’s rule, the province had witnessed considerable developments and better public services, with more security and stability, all of which has deteriorated since his ouster.
Serving as the personal doctor to the late leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and former Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, Karim was a member of the PUK’s Politburo before he let go by the party earlier this year.
Kirkuk is one of multiple disputed territories claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Federal Government of Iraq. Article 140 in the Iraqi Constitution provided for a referendum to be held in the oil-rich and ethnically-diverse province by the end of 2007 to determine its future, but it has yet to be implemented by subsequent Iraqi governments.
Editing by Nadia Riva
(Additional reporting by Sangar Ali)