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Kurds issue arrest warrants for 11 Iraqis as tensions brew

© AFP | Iraqi Kurds protest in their regional capital Arbil on October 21, 2017, as tensions soar with Baghdad

ARBIL (IRAQ) (AFP) - 

Iraqi Kurdish authorities said Monday they had issued arrest warrants for 11 Iraqis including leaders in a powerful paramilitary group, in an apparent tit-for-tat move after Baghdad took similar measures.

The moves come amid brewing tensions between Baghdad and the Kurds, who last month held an independence vote in defiance of the federal government.

The prosecution in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan said in a statement it had issued the warrants for 11 people and asked a court in regional capital Arbil to take legal steps to pursue the matter.

Among those targeted is Qais al-Khazali, founder and leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iran-backed Shiite militia that is one of the main components of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary group.

The powerful Hashed, also called Popular Mobilisation Forces, has been a key player in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq alongside federal forces.

Last week, they also took part in an operation by government forces that retook Kurdish-held areas outside the autonomous region in northern Iraq.

Also facing an arrest warrant issued by the Kurds are Rayan al-Kaldani, the head of a Christian militia that fights in the ranks of the Hashed, and Shiite lawmaker Hanan al-Fatlawi.

It was not immediately clear why they were wanted.

Tensions have been high between Arbil and Baghdad since the Kurds organised an independence vote on September 25, which Iraq's supreme court deemed unconstitutional.

Since then, Baghdad courts have issued several arrest warrants for Kurdish leaders on several charges.

On Sunday, an Iraqi anti-corruption task force said it had issued a warrant for the arrest of Babaker Zebari, a Kurd and former Iraqi army chief of staff, over misappropriation of public funds.

A statement from the anti-corruption body said Zebari is accused of having gifted "civilians seven vehicles that belonged to the defence ministry".

On Thursday, a warrant was issued for the vice president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Kosrat Rasul, on charges of "provocation" against Iraq's armed forces.

Earlier this month, another court ordered the arrest of the three senior Kurdish officials responsible for organising the independence referendum.

© 2017 AFP