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Ousted former governor of Iraqi city of Kirkuk dies in Washington

Najmeddin Karim's family said he passed away overnight in a Washington hospital
Kirkuk provincial governor Najmeddin Karim shows his ink-stained finger after voting in the Kurdish independence referendum in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, on 25 September 2017 (AFP)

The ousted former governor of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Najmeddin Karim, has died in the US, his family has said.

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Karim, who held both Iraqi and US citizenship, died at the age of 71 in a hospital in Washington.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Iraqi Kurdish party of which he was once a member, said he would be buried in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Karim was forced to quit as governor of the contested city in 2017 for organising an independence referendum in defiance of Iraq's federal government. He was also wanted for corruption.

Kirkuk is one of several regions that Kurdish peshmerga fighters took over in 2014 as the Islamic State group swept through much of northern and western Iraq.

The city, which has a mix of Arabs, Turkmen and Kurdish citizens, has long been subjected to disputed sovereignty claims, with Kurdish nationalists arguing that the city is the cultural capital of historic Kurdistan.

Recapture of Kirkuk

Angered by the 2017 referendum for independence from Iraq, which included Kirkuk as well other disputed areas as part of a prospective state, Baghdad deployed federal forces and retook the oil-rich province in October of that year.

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Karim had organised 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 the city.

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.