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Iraq's Kurds demand PM Maliki's resignation

Iraq's Maliki says Kurdistan harbouring IS militants, Baathists, Qaeda fighters and 'terrorist operations'
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks at a political rally in January (AFP)

Iraq's Kurds said Thursday Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was "hysterical" and not fit to run the country, after the premier accused them of harbouring militants hostile to Baghdad.

Maliki "has become hysterical and has lost his balance", a statement from the office of Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani said, reacting to accusations by the prime minister a day earlier that his administration was harbouring militants.

"Honestly, we cannot be silent over this and we cannot be silent over Erbil being a headquarters for Daash, and the Baath, and Al-Qaeda and terrorist operations," Maliki said.

Daash is the former Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (IS) group, which Kurdish forces are in fact fighting against in the north, while Baath refers to the banned party of executed Saddam Hussein.

"They (militant groups) will lose, and their host will lose also," Maliki said on television.

Kurdish troops moved into disputed areas vacated by federal forces that failed to stop a Sunni militant onslaught that began on June 9.

The Kurds have since said those swathes of land were theirs to keep, and announced plans to hold a referendum on independence, and the Kurdish president said the security collapse was of the premier's own making.

"You must apologise to the Iraqi people and step down. You have destroyed the country and someone who has destroyed the country cannot save the country from crises," the statement said.

Disunity among Iraq politicians

The escalating war of words between Maliki and the Kurds has already cast a pall over a key parliament session slated for July 13.

The new Iraqi MPs' first attempt at selecting a speaker, president and government on July 1 ended in disarray, with deputies trading threats and heckles and some eventually walking out.

The next session was announced for August 12 but the timing caused an outcry, with both regular Iraqis and the international community exasperated by the lack of urgency their politicians were displaying when the country was mired in its worst crisis in years.

While many of Iraq's factions, apparently including some within the prime minister's own bloc, agree that Maliki needs to step aside if deadly sectarianism is to be reined in, the incumbent has insisted his poll victory legitimised his bid for a third term.

Some observers argue Maliki is intentionally seeking to scupper the upcoming parliament vote to buy more time and tip political support back in his favour.

"He's trying to play it long because it's his only chance," one Western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Leaders typically agree key positions in a package, with the post of speaker generally going to a Sunni Arab, the premiership to a Shiite Arab and the presidency to a Kurd.

Despite telling AFP in 2011 that he would not seek a third term, Maliki vowed last week he would not bow to mounting pressure to step aside and allow a broader consensus government.

Iraq Kurd secession bid fraught with danger

Experts expect Iraqi Kurd's secession to be fraught with danger, but that their threat of a vote is more likely a bargaining tool on a longer road to independence.

One of the biggest obstacles to Kurdish secession is money, with oil revenues from areas they control insufficient to pay for the region's numerous civil servants.

Kurdish independence has in the past been anathema to Turkey, which also has a sizeable Kurdish minority.

While the Kurds struggle for money, they are also financing an expensive campaign to keep a raging Sunni insurgency led by IS from their borders and out of disputed areas vacated by the retreating Iraqi army.

Kurdish politicians are fighting for key posts in Iraq's new government after April polls, indicating they are hedging their bets on independence.

With Turkish support uncertain, strained finances, insurgents at the door, and the possibility of revolt by Arabs in disputed lands that Kurdistan intends to fold into its realm, experts do not expect the birth of a new nation soon.

While Iraq has received support, including equipment, intelligence and advisers from the United States, Russia, Iran and even Shiite militias it once shunned, efforts to battle the militants have languished.

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