Skip to main content

Iraq's top diplomat replaced, sources say

By Hamdi Alkhshali and Michael Martinez, CNN
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Hoshyar Zebari is shown in Baghdad on June 23. A Prime Minister's adviser will be interim foreign minister, officials say.
Hoshyar Zebari is shown in Baghdad on June 23. A Prime Minister's adviser will be interim foreign minister, officials say.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, was removed from his post, officials say
  • His ouster comes as Kurds boycott the government
  • Kurds are angered by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's comments linking ISIS to Kurds
  • A Kurd official says al-Maliki is trying to create an Arab-Kurd conflict as a diversion

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- In a possible portent of growing factional conflict, a leading Kurdish minister was removed from Iraq's government, and the Kurdish semi-autonomous government took over two oilfields in the north, officials said Friday.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the face of Iraqi diplomacy for a more than a decade, was removed Friday by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, two senior Iraqi government officials said.

Zebari's ouster occurred as Kurds in Iraq's government launched a boycott followed comments made Thursday by al-Maliki, who purportedly linked ISIS extremists and Baathists to the Kurdish Regional Government in Irbil.

The Kurds strongly dispute al-Maliki's allegations and say he wants to scapegoat the Kurds for his failures in northern Iraq and divert attention from how ISIS militants have poured into Iraq and waged warfare against the government, a senior Kurdish official said.

The senior Kurdish official accused al-Maliki of trying to turn a conflict between al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government and Sunnis -- some of whom have supported the extremists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria -- into a dispute between Arabs and Kurds.

Appointed as interim foreign minister was Hussain Shahristani, a Shiite and an al-Maliki adviser who is deputy prime minister for energy affairs, two senior Iraqi government officials said. The officials told CNN that Zebari was replaced after Kurdish ministers boycotted Cabinet meetings.

CNN was not able to reach anyone at the Prime Minister's office for comment.

Oil field seizures

Meanwhile, the Kurds' Peshmerga forces on Friday seized two oilfields -- one medium-sized and the other small -- though the fields weren't under any threat from ISIS, a Kurdish government source said.

The Kurds took the oilfields after accusing Iraq's Ministry of Oil of trying to "sabotage the recent mutually-agreed pipeline infrastructure linking the Avana dome with the Khurmala field" in northern Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government said.

That new pipeline was to help increase revenues for Iraq "at a time of great need and at a time when most of the Iraq-Turkey pipeline is under ISIS control," the Kurdish government said.

The Kurdish government accused Baghdad of ordering officials not to use the new pipeline to export oil and instead to re-inject the oil back into an unused field in Kirkuk in the north.

"This politically motivated decision risked causing great damage to the field in question with a permanent loss of most of the oil that has been re-injected. It has also deprived the people of Iraq of much-needed oil export revenue," the Kurdish government said.

"This morning's events have shown that the (Kurdish Regional Government) is determined to protect and defend Iraq's oil infrastructure whenever it is threatened by acts of terrorism or, as in this case, politically motivated sabotage," the Kurdish government said.

Despite being unable to export, the Avana and Makhmour fields were producing about 110,000 barrels of oil per day, the Kurdish government said.

Baghdad and Irbil have long been at odds, especially over Article 140 of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution. The document called for a referendum that never happened: the vote was supposed to have determined the final status of several disputed areas such as Kirkuk and small villages in Nineveh, Diyala and Salaheddin claimed by the central government and the Kurdistan government.

Baghdad often accuses Irbil of signing illegal oil deals.

A minister since the U.S. invasion

As a leading Kurdish and government figure in Iraq, Zebari had been Iraq's foreign minister since 2003, after the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, according to his profile on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

Before that, he was involved in the Kurdish resistance against the Hussein regime, and he was head of the Kurdish Democratic Party's international relations bureau.

His ouster came as Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani called on all Kurdish members of the Iraqi parliament and Kurdish ministers in the Iraqi government to return to the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, said Khasro Goran, a leader in the KDP Kurdish Party.

Goran, also head of the KDP bloc in the Iraqi parliament, added that no Kurdish member of parliament will attend Sunday's parliament session called for by the caretaker speaker of parliament, Mehdi al-Hafez.

Goran also told CNN that the Kurdish ministers in the Iraqi government will not participate in Cabinet meetings for the time being.

Kurdish participation in Iraq's government formation will depend on the outcome of the decisions made by the Kurdish alliance in Irbil, a senior Kurdish official told CNN.

Last month, Barzani gave his strongest-ever indication that the Kurdish region would seek formal independence from the rest of Iraq, he told CNN.

"Iraq is obviously falling apart," Barzani said. "The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold."

Iraqi Kurdish independence has long been something of a dream, and the region has had semi-autonomy from Baghdad for more than two decades.

But Iraq's latest crisis, in which Sunni extremists have captured a large swath of Iraqi territory on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan, seems to have pushed the Kurds over the edge.

"Now we are living [in] a new Iraq, which is different completely from the Iraq that we always knew, the Iraq that we lived in 10 days or two weeks ago," Barzani said last month.

MAPS: Understanding the Iraq crisis

READ: Exclusive: Inside Baghdad hospital, harrowing tales from the front line

READ: As Iraq burns, what are leaders doing?

CNN's Arwa Damon contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Iraq
Get all the latest news and updates on Iraq in Arabic by visiting CNN Arabic.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 2232 GMT (0632 HKT)
ISIS has published a video titled "A second message to America," showing the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 0427 GMT (1227 HKT)
Kurdish leaders in Iraq say U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish ground forces are driving ISIS back. CNN's Anna Coren reports.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
CNN's Andrew Stevens speaks to The Daily Beast's Christopher Dickey about ISIS' strategy in Iraq.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
ISIS may begin to suffer setbacks on the battlefield, according to a new analysis of its capabilities and tactics.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 0350 GMT (1150 HKT)
The beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants brings into focus once again the risks faced by reporters in modern conflicts.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
When war reporter James Foley wasn't writing for GlobalPost or recording video for AFP, he occasionally shared stories on his own blog, aptly titled "A World of Troubles."
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1517 GMT (2317 HKT)
A video released by ISIS shows the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
"May God help you," the speaker of Iraq's parliament told Haider al-Abadi the day he was nominated prime minister.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0219 GMT (1019 HKT)
The answers to this question lie in some clear differences in the two conflicts.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2227 GMT (0627 HKT)
Framing the intervention in religious terms bolsters theories of U.S. bias, says Fahad Nazer.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
They are the faces of an entire community on the run.
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 0854 GMT (1654 HKT)
In an exodus of almost biblical proportions, thousands trudge across a river to escape killers belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Theirs were the faces that stood out in the chaotic helicopter evacuation off the Sinjar Mountains.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
Browse through photos of thousands of refugees trudging across a river to escape ISIS.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1541 GMT (2341 HKT)
The face of 15-year-old Aziza -- rescued from Mount Sinjar in Iraq -- says it all.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
CNN's Ivan Watson flies along with the Iraqi military as they drop emergency supplies.
Why do the militant Islamists have the Yazidis in their cross hairs?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Images illustrate the ongoing violence in Iraq.
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1608 GMT (0008 HKT)
The message from a growing number of actors inside and outside Iraq is the same: Maliki must go if the country is to be saved.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
ISIS gives young men "cars to drive, guns, cell phones and cash money."
ADVERTISEMENT