Former Kirkuk governor Najmeddin Karim, who was forced to quit for organizing a referendum in defiance of Iraq’s federal government and wanted for corruption, died on Saturday, his family said.
Aged 71, Karim passed away at dawn in a hospital in the United States. He held both Iraqi and US citizenship.
He would be buried in Iraqi Kurdistan, said the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of which he was once a member.
Kirkuk is one of several regions that Kurdish peshmerga fighters took over in 2014 as extremists from ISIS terrorist group swept through much of northern and western Iraq.
Angered by the 2017 referendum for independence from Iraq, Baghdad deployed federal forces and retook the oil-rich province in October 2017.
Karim had organized the referendum in Kirkuk in defiance of the federal government and had also taken to the airwaves to call people to arms against federal forces.
Days before the referendum was held across the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, federal authorities had fired Karim from the governorship.
Karim, who had defied the order to step down and raised the Kurdish flag on Kirkuk’s official building, fled after federal forces took control of Kirkuk.
Oil is the lifeblood of the economy in Iraq which relies on crude sales to fund around 90 percent of its budget.
But the country, one of the most corrupt in the world, has lost billions of state funds since 2003, representing almost three times its budget and twice its gross domestic product.