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Belgian Defense Minister vows to respond after Baghdad blocked his visit to Kurdistan

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ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Belgium’s Defense Minister Steven Vandeput revealed that the Iraqi federal government blocked him from visiting Belgian troops in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region and asked Brussels to respond diplomatically.

During a Christmas tour to the Middle East over the past few weeks, Vandeput visited the al-Udeid airbase in Qatar where Belgian troops are stationed.

“It was also the intention to visit our soldiers in Iraq out of respect for their work far from home. But we only get permission from Iraq to visit our people in Baghdad while our troops are mostly in the north of Iraq, in Erbil. It’s sad,” Vandeput told Het Belang van Limburg Newspaper a few weeks ago.

“It is the Belgians who assist the security forces and thus also help the Iraqi government against [the Islamic State] IS. Now, Iraq does not welcome us there. We would then rather not go to Iraq at all. We will make sure that our people get their Christmas present from us.”

The European Minister stated that Belgium would not sit idly, vowing “respond diplomatically.”

He revealed this was the first time a Belgian Minister of Defense was prevented from visiting troops on the ground.

“A sustainable solution for Iraq should be an inclusive government in which every population group has its say,” he added.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) representative to the EU, Delavar Ajgeiy, confirmed the report with local Iraqi media and stated that the Belgium government summoned the country’s Ambassador in Brussels.

General Marc Compernol, Chief of Defense for Belgium, also expressed his concerns about the block. “We cannot thank [our people who have worked hard and are working against IS in Iraq] right now for the holidays for everything they do. Sad.”

Belgium intends to increase the number of troops in Iraq in 2018. There are roughly 100 Belgian military advisers and soldiers in Iraq, mostly in the Kurdistan Region. They provide assistance and advice to the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces in the fight against IS.

The Peshmerga have been one labeled as one of the most effective ground forces against the jihadist, notably after the Iraq Army collapsed and retreated from northern Iraq after the emergence of the group in 2014.

Ties between Erbil and Baghdad have considerably deteriorated following the Kurdistan Region’s Sep. 25 independence referendum, which saw an overwhelming majority vote in favor of statehood.

The Iraqi government has imposed a series of collective punitive measures on the Kurdistan Region, including banning international flights to the Region’s airports. Additionally, on Oct. 16, Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias attacked and took over disputed territories, most notably the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

Political analysts have repeatedly criticized Baghdad for trying to isolate the Kurdistan Region.

In November, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel canceled a trip to Baghdad after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi refused to meet with him if he also visited Erbil.

The Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has repeatedly called for dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to resolve their differences peacefully, but the talks yet to begin.

Editing by Nadia Riva



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Social media crackdown on citizens, lawmakers follows Turkey’s attacks on Afrin

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ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish authorities launched investigations on Monday against scores of people—among them journalists, writers, and lawmakers—and arrested dozens of others over their criticism on social media of Ankara’s invasion of the Kurdish region of Afrin in northwestern Syria.

The chief public prosecutor’s office in Istanbul announced probes targeting 57 individuals for the crimes of “propaganda in support of a terror group, inciting public hostility, insulting the President, and sharing content that contravenes realities.”

Over the weekend, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke harshly of those daring to protest his army’s aerial and ground attacks on the isolated Kurdish enclave where Turkish airstrikes have killed dozens, among them civilians and fighters of the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG).

He vowed to “pulverize” them, directing his words also at the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), an opposition bloc already bracing an ongoing crackdown since late 2016 that saw its Co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, nine lawmakers, 80 mayors, and thousands of members imprisoned.

In the Kurdish province of Mardin, Diyarbakir, and Mus, police arrested at least 30 people.

Journalist Nurcan Baysal and local co-head of HDP’s branch in Diyarbakir’s Bismil district Refai Baran were detained in midnight raids for their tweets and Facebook posts in support of the people of Afrin.

Three other journalists and authors, Ishak Karakas, Aziz Tunc, and Ismail Eskin, were also taken into custody by Istanbul police.

According to the Turkish Journalists’ Association, prisons across Turkey are home to over 160 reporters, photographers, writers, and other media workers.

Elsewhere, in Van, on the border with Iranian Kurdistan, the public prosecutor began probes against four HDP lawmakers representing the province at the Turkish Parliament.

In Dersim, MP Ali Oncel was the target of another Ankara-appointed prosecutor.

HDP Spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen and Hakkari MP Nadir Yildirim were already under investigations for their tweets regarding the Afrin offensive.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany



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Members of European Parliament condemn Turkish attack on Afrin

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ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Members of the European Parliament on Monday condemned Turkey’s ongoing military operation against Kurds in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin.

Cypriot MEP Takis Hadjigeorgiou, who is also the Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to Turkey, “strongly condemned the Turkish invasion” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava).

“We stand with all the peacekeeping forces that call for an immediate end to the invasion and the withdrawal of Turkish troops,” Hadjigeorgiou continued.

“We express our solidarity with the Syrian people and the Kurds in both Syria and Turkey who are constantly threatened by the Turkish government,” he added.

German MEP Martina Michels also criticized the military operation in Afrin, stressing that “it is unacceptable that the Turkish army has been attacking Kurdish villages.”

“[The campaign in Afrin] goes to the heart of Erdogan’s long-held dream of destroying Kurdish self-determination—not just within Turkey, but in Iraq and Syria as well,” she said.

Meanwhile, French MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat called on the international community to “act quickly by taking a stand against these operations and by bolstering our support to the inhabitants of Afrin.”

During a meeting with European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, said she was “extremely worried” about the ongoing Turkish attacks against Syrian Kurds in Afrin.

Mogherini also noted that the violence might undermine the peace talks on Syria in Geneva, and severely affect the humanitarian situation on the ground.



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KRG PM to meet Abadi for second time this week

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ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister announced he would be meeting with his Iraqi counterpart at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday.

During a press conference following a Council of Ministers meeting in Erbil on Monday, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said he had a “productive meeting” with Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad on Sunday and is scheduled to meet him again in Davos.

Prime Minister Barzani and an accompanying KRG delegation met with Abadi in Baghdad for the first time since the Kurdistan Region’s Sep. 25 independence referendum.

Barzani said he had discussed the salaries of public employees, oil, airports, and border crossings with Abadi, adding the KRG “will be in communication with the Baghdad-appointed committees sent to the Kurdistan Region to resolve all the outstanding issues.”

Barzani, who will attend the World Economic Forum, revealed that he would sit with the Iraqi PM and Minister of Oil once again, noting that the meetings between the KRG and the Iraqi government would continue in the future.

Regarding the end of an international flight ban on the Kurdistan Region’s airports, the KRG Prime Minister admitted it was still unclear when Baghdad would lift the ban, but said the relevant committees had been working to resolve the issues.

Barzani also explained that the KRG delegation’s visits to Tehran and Baghdad “did not result in any agreements as we worked on restoring the two sides’ relations with the Kurdistan Region.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany



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