Did the UN Really Stop the Clock?

In December 2007, as the deadline for the implementation of article 140 of the Iraqi constitution unsurprisingly passed, UN special envoy to Iraq Staffan de Mistura claimed: “…the question of Kikruk was a ticking time bomb. The United Nations has stopped the clock”. In reality however, the UN never stopped the clock, they only added more time to the “ticker”.

After Iraqi political figures agreed to “technical” assistance from the UN, it was hoped that a breakthrough could be finally reached on the hotly-contested territories including oil-rich Kirkuk. That aside, officially article 140, despite Turkoman and Arab rhetoric, is still the only legally binding paradigm for solving land disputes. The decision in December was to extend the deadline by another 6 months. However, only the deepest optimist would have thought that a referendum would be held by 31st June 2008.

The fact that Iraq is unwilling to follow democratic principles adopted by a clear majority speaks volumes about the level of mistrust and animosity gripping the national horizon and lack of genuine appetite for egalitarianism. Iraqis should never have allowed the interference of outside parties in internal affairs, let alone that of the UN. Simply, the UN lacks an adequate understanding on the level of differences rooted amidst the socio-political landscape.

The Kurds have never had representation in the UN and have been commonly persecuted while the UN Security Council has taken no action. Whilst 250,000 Kurds were kicked and beaten without remorse from their historical homes, “compromise” was not a word uttered by Baathist forces. Now those same Kurds, wishing to return home, are been told their legally-enshrined demands constitute overreaching and they must compromise.

In tandem with political progress on article 140, even the UN missed their own deadline to table suggestions to Iraqi leaders by weeks. Finally, those widely anticipated suggestions arrived in Baghdad last week.

Even the first phase of a methodology designed as a stepping-stone for dealing with Kirkuk by resolving less-contested areas was met with much apprehension. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) “first analysis” recommended putting Akra and Makhmour districts under Kurdistan Region control and with the districts of al-Hamadaniya and Mandali to be administered by central government.

The recommendations were based on “the administrative history of the areas and the change that have taken place after 2003 March along with the population structure and 2005 elections”. No matter what historical trajectory is analysed, UNAMI suggestions will always be based on approximations, until the people of every town are consulted in true democratic terms. This simply takes the argument a full circle – no technical agreement can formulate an all-encompassing basis for each region without an unambiguous consultation.

The suggestions were almost immediately criticised by Iraqi lawmakers on both sides of the Arab-Kurdish divide. There was general Arab census that the recommendations were “unconstitutional”, complicated the issue and had no legal basis. The Kurds themselves are unlikely to be happy without the prize asset of Kirkuk returning.

For the Kurds, this is a historical juncture. This is a chance to correct the wrongs of the past in a democratic and legal manner. If Kurds were unwilling to compromise in 1975 over Kirkuk, then any deal in the “new” Iraq of 2008 not involving its rightful return would represent a huge setback. The UN is an international yet generic taskforce when it comes to fiercely-contested regional matters. They will adopt a formula to try and please all parties, regardless of the weight of historical argument. If the UN is truly a taskforce capable of ensuring equal rights and safeguarding stability, then Kurdistan would have been independent long-ago.

The UN formula seemingly side-steps the fact that article 140 is synonymous with Kirkuk. A solution to deal with other less-emotive areas under dispute does not alter the picture a great deal.

Recently, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, stated his administrations willingness for power sharing. If realised, such concessions are likely to be weighted with many caveats. Possibly, for greater compromise by Baghdad on the hydrocarbon-law or the return of all other disputed lands without question. Concessions would give Kurds productive short-term gains as well as a major boost of ties with the Turkish administration, yet the sense of regional defeat may be unavoidable.

Kirkuk has been a historical red-line and remains a future icon of Kurdish prosperity and survival. The will of the majority must not be sacrificed as a political token or gesture.
Regardless, the ticking time-bomb continues its countdown.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

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