Middle East

Kurds boycott Iraq cabinet in anti-Maliki protest

President of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region Massud Barzani arrives for a session of the Kurdistan parliament in Erbil on 3 July 2014. Image copyright AFP
Image caption A spokesman for Mr Barzani (centre) said that Mr Maliki should "apologise to the Iraqi people" and resign

Kurdish leaders have vowed to boycott the cabinet of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after he accused Kurds of harbouring extremists.

On Wednesday Mr Maliki said the Kurdish provincial capital Irbil was a haven for jihadist fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

A spokesman for Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said Mr Maliki "had become hysterical" and urged him to step down.

Last month Isis insurgents seized huge swathes of north-western Iraq.

Kurdish forces moved into areas abandoned by the Iraqi army during the Isis advance, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

'Security fiasco'

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Nouri Shawez, the highest-ranking Kurdish member of government, said that Mr Maliki's statements were "meant to hide the big security fiasco".

He said that Kurds would boycott cabinet meetings until further notice.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Isis-led Sunni rebels have seized large swathes of north-western Iraq

A spokesman for the Kurdish president said that Mr Maliki had "been afflicted by a true hysteria and lost his balance".

"You have destroyed the country and someone who has destroyed the country cannot save the country from crises", he said, referring the Mr Maliki.

However, a Kurdish official told the Reuters news agency that this did not mean the Kurds were "pulling out from the government".

The political rift comes three days before a planned parliament session meant to choose a new government for Iraq after elections in April.

Kurdish authorities say they are also preparing a referendum on independence.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Kurdish peshmerga forces have taken over security in several towns where the Iraqi army melted away

Mr Maliki has faced accusations of failing to govern inclusively and of inflaming sectarian tensions.

He accused the Kurdish autonomous government of "exploiting" the recent circumstances in Iraq and of pursuing an expansionist policy.

"We will never be silent about Irbil [a Kurdish city] becoming a base for the operations of Isis, Baathists, al-Qaeda and terrorists," he said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, aviation authorities in Baghdad have halted cargo flights to Irbil and Iraq's second major Kurdish city, Sulaymaniyah, Reuters news agency reported.

The UN has said at least 2,417 Iraqis, including 1,531 civilians, were killed in "acts of violence and terrorism" in June.

More than a million people have fled their homes as a result of the fighting in recent months.

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