BAGHDAD – A shootout between Iraqi police and Kurdish guards in a disputed northern city left a civilian dead and four policemen wounded on Friday, adding strain to already deteriorating relations between the Arab-led central government in Baghdad and the self-ruled Kurdish region.
It was the first time casualty-causing clashes occurred between the two sides for years, although they have been at loggerheads over land, natural resources and how to share power since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.
The clash occurred as police commandos were attempting to arrest a Kurdish smuggler in the city of Tuz Khormato, said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir al-Zaidi, of the newly formed Dijla Joint Military Command. When the smuggler took shelter in the offices of a Kurdish political party, police tried to break into the building, but gunmen guarding the office opened fire, he added.
The smuggler fled during the shootout.
The city, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) north of Baghdad, is a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen competing for control of the city. It also borders the autonomous Kurdish region.
Al-Zaidi said police had acted fully within the law.
Last month, Iraq's central government formed a new military command to oversee Baghdad-run security forces bordering the Kurdish region, including disputed areas claimed by Iraqi Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds, in particular the areas surrounding Mosul and Kirkuk.
Baghdad-run security forces are not allowed to work inside the Kurdish autonomous region itself.
U.S. forces once oversaw the area, helping Kurdish and Arab security forces form joint patrols.
One-third of Iraq's considerable oil wealth is in the Kurdish region, adding to the tension. Kurdish officials have unilaterally signed scores of oil deals with mostly mid-sized oil companies, prompting Baghdad to blacklist those companies.
Follow Salaheddin on twitter.com/sinansm