Iraq’s central government has launched a probe into the hefty oil revenues of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), further seeking to seize key businesses in the separatist northern region two weeks after the Kurdish leaders held a highly controversial referendum to secede from the Arab country in open defiance of Baghdad.
According to a statement released by Baghdad’s National Security Council, the government has launched an investigation into Kurdistan’s revenues obtained from the lucrative oil export business and the pro-independence region’s officials, who might have illegally monopolized the market.
“The corrupt will be exposed and the funds recovered,” further read the statement from the council, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has repeatedly denounced the “illegal” referendum on independence the KRG held in the region on September 25.
Last month, Abadi criticized the Kurdish leaders for taking some 25 percent of the revenues that Iraq raises through exporting crude oil, saying they had not even paid salaries to employees and workers in the Kurdish region despite the hefty oil income.
The council further announced on Monday that it had already compiled “a list of names” of Kurdish officials, who helped organize the contentious plebiscite, saying that “judicial measures have been taken against them”, without providing more details.
In a bid to further cripple the KRG, Baghdad is also seeking to reclaim control over cell phone companies in the region, including two of the largest providers in the Arab country, namely the Asiacell, based in Sulaymaniyah, and the Korek Telecom, based in the region’s capital Erbil.
Regional countries, including Iran and Turkey, have already expressed their strong opposition to the vote, with Ankara saying that it no longer allows the region’s crude to be exported through the Anatolian country and Tehran saying that, upon an official request from Baghdad, it would not allow any flights to and from the land-locked region.
The provocative referendum, through which an overwhelming majority of voters backed independence, was also held much to the consternation of the international community that warned it could most likely create more trouble in the already violence-weary Arab country, which is trying to emerge from years of a campaign of death and destruction by Daesh Takfiri terrorists.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Vice-President Ayad Allawi warned that there could be a “civil war” over the Kurdish-administered city of Kirkuk if talks over the so-called vote were left unresolved, saying the oil-rich city could be the “flashpoint” that triggers conflict in northern Iraq. Kirkuk, though is not part of the Kurdish region, has been administered by Kurdish forces since 2014.
Last month, the Iraqi premier said that Baghdad would not negotiate with the Kurdish authorities the results of the provocative referendum on the independence of the KRG, which is led by Massoud Barzani, warning that the whole nation would suffer from the repercussions of the “unconstitutional” move.