ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Former governor of Iraq's disputed province of Kirkuk, Najmaldin Karim, arrived on Saturday evening in Erbil, weeks after reports of his arrest at the international airport in Beirut.
“He returned back to Erbil yesterday evening to resume his daily work in the Kurdistan Region,” a source from Karim’s office told Kurdistan 24 on Sunday.
In late May, Iraqi and Kurdish local media reported that Karim was arrested upon arrival at Beirut-Rafic Hariri Airport.
Later, Iraq's Interior Ministry released a statement about the incident, explaining that an arrest warrant for Karim was issued by Interpol on Oct. 31, 2018, following an Iraqi court order from April 12, 2018. The ministry added that Interpol in Lebanon had informed them that it had released Karim on bail and had taken his passport to prevent him from traveling.
Karim’s office later rejected reports of his arrest in a statement, claiming he would be back in the Kurdistan Region soon.
“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,” the statement read.
It 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, when 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 from his post 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 have long affirmed that, under Karim’s rule, the province witnessed considerable developments that included much-improved public services, security, and stability. Since his ouster, all three have starkly deteriorated.
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 Politburo of the PUK before it accepted his resignation of party membership earlier this year.
Kirkuk is one of the 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 John J. Catherine