Iraq’ parliament on Thursday voted to dismiss the Kurdish governor of the ethnically-mixed Kirkuk province, in a move that could escalate tensions ahead of a planned Kurdish referendum on independence.
Iraq’s Kurds plan to hold the vote on Sept. 25 in three governorates that make up their autonomous region as well as disputed areas like Kirkuk that are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad. Late last month, Kirkuk’s provincial council voted to take part in the referendum. Iraq’s central government has rejected the polls as unconstitutional and illegal.
Lawmaker Hussein al-Maliki said parliament voted to dismiss Kirkuk Gov. Najmiddin Karim based on consultations with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Mohammed al-Karboli, another Arab lawmaker, said Karim “threatens the country’s unity and civil peace in Kirkuk.”
All Kurdish members boycotted Thursday’s session, while 187 mainly Arab and Turkmen legislators voted in favor, the two lawmakers said. The governor has the right to appeal the decision, al-Karboli added.
Oil-rich Kirkuk is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians. Kurdish forces took control of the province and other disputed areas in the summer of 2014, when the Islamic State group swept across northern and central Iraq and the Iraqi armed forces crumbled.
Iraq’s Kurdish region has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the U.S. imposed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq after the 1990 Gulf…