BAGHDAD — A Baghdad court issued an arrest warrant for the vice president of Iraq’s autonomous northern Kurdish region on Thursday for saying that Iraqi forces had “occupied” the disputed province of Kirkuk this week.
However, the warrant against Kosrat Rasul is unlikely to be executed, as the central government in Baghdad has no enforceable authority in the Kurdish-administered north.
The court accused Rasul of “insulting” Iraq’s armed forces, which is forbidden by Iraqi law.
On Monday, Iraq’s federal forces, supported by Iranian-sponsored militias, rolled into the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Kurdish forces, which had seized the area when the Iraqi army melted away during the Islamic State group’s rampage across the country’s northwest in 2014, withdrew after brief clashes.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman for Iraq’s armed forces, said the military would redeploy to all areas it controlled before the rise of ISIS.
The Kurds have already withdrawn from most areas in northern and eastern Iraq that they took during the war against the jihadis. In the battle against ISIS, the Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, fought on the same side as the Iraqi military and its allies, mainly a coalition of predominantly Shiite militias. In addition, both the Kurds and Iraq’s central government are military allies of the United States.
On Thursday, tensions ran high along the main road between the Kurdish regional capital, Irbil, and Kirkuk. Kurdish forces on Wednesday took up positions about 5 kilometers (3 miles) beyond their initial lines, regrouping to defend the town of Altun Kupri. Iraqi forces established their own positions about 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) away.
Altun Kupri likes just outside the boundary of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous zone. Kurdish forces moved in to the town in 2014.
The pullout this week from the city of Kirkuk and other towns and villages they held is likely to deprive the Kurdish regional government of a substantial revenue stream.
The Kirkuk oil field surrounding the city was estimated in 2007 to hold almost 9 billion barrels of oil. Iraq’s Oil Ministry said it has asked British Petroleum to develop plans to expand production at the field “as quickly as possible.”
Rasool, the Iraqi military spokesman, said Thursday the military had no plans to capture the nearby Khurmala oil field, which is located inside the Kurdish region. Its reserves are estimated at 2.8 billion barrels.
Associated Press writer Balint Szlanko in Kirkuk, Iraq, contributed to this report.