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Iraq’s ex-Kirkuk governor flees to US with millions of petrodollars: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Najmiddin Karim, former governor of Iraq’s northern province of Kirkuk

The former governor of Iraq’s northern oil-rich province of Kirkuk and a staunch supporter of the Kurdish independence referendum has reportedly fled to the United States with millions of petrodollars.

Ali al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Units – commonly known by the Arabic word Hashd al-Sha’abi, said on Tuesday that Najmiddin Karim was receiving 10 million dollars from the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, over petroleum smuggling, Arabic-language Babil24 news website reported.

He added that there is substantial evidence that Karim has left Iraq through Erbil, which is the capital city of Kurdistan region and located approximately 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of Baghdad.

Husseini noted that all Kurdish leader well knew about Karim’s misconduct, and the fact that he was being paid by Barzani over oil smuggling from Kirkuk, but kept mum.

The Hashd al-Sha’abi spokesman added that Kurdish officials must file a lawsuit against the former Kirkuk governor and Barzani so that they would stand trial for stolen funds.

On September 14, the Iraqi parliament voted to dismiss Karim after the provincial council voted to take part in the Kurdish independence referendum irrespective of the central government’s strong opposition to the secession bid.

Earlier in the day, the office of Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri announced in a statement that it had received a request from the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanding a voting session to discharge 68-year-old Karim.

Abadi ordered the hoisting of Iraqi national flag in the country’s oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk as well as other areas under the control of the KRG on October 16.

The development came shortly after a convoy of Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces took control of the governorate building in the central part of Kirkuk, located 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of capital Baghdad, facing no resistance from Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the city.

Kurdish officials count votes after the closure of polls during the referendum on independence at a polling station in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

According to the city's residents, before hoisting the national flag, Iraqi forces removed the Kurdish flag from the governorate building.

Security sources and residents, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government forces arrived at the site, and took position in the vicinity alongside the local city police.

The referendum on secession of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region was held on September 25 despite strong opposition from the central government in Baghdad, the international community, and Iraq's neighboring countries, especially Turkey and Iran.

Following the vote, Baghdad imposed a ban on direct international flights to the Kurdish region and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales.

On October 12, an Iraqi government spokesman said Baghdad had set a series of conditions that the KRG needed to meet before any talks on the resolution of the referendum crisis could start.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has called on KRG authorities to abide by a top court ruling that declared the recent secession referendum in northern Iraq unconstitutional.

The file picture shows a view of Iraq's Supreme Federal Court in the capital Baghdad.

The UN mission also demanded that Baghdad and Erbil engage in negotiations without delay within the framework of the constitution and discuss issues ranging from the control of borders and the reopening of airports to the federal budget, the payment of salaries and the management of oil exports.

On November 20, Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court, which is responsible for settling disputes between the central government in Baghdad and the country’s regions, announced it had made a “decision to consider the Kurdish region’s referendum unconstitutional and this ruling is final.”

It also decided to annul “all the consequences and results” of the plebiscite which was held on September 25 in defiance of strong objection from both Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors, particularly Iran and Turkey.

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