The Iraqi Mindset is, as long as there is no democracy in Kirkuk, there is no chance of a Kurdish cictory
After years of foot-dragging by Baghdad over the status of Kirkuk, Kurds have decided to dig their heels in. The heated-battle for Kirkuk continues apace with decisive concord out of sight.
Iraqi leaders, after weeks of deliberation within the Baghdad political chambers and with much pressure from George Bush and other senior US officials, failed to strike a deal on the provincial election law that would facilitate the progression of crucial elections, raising great doubt that the elections could be held this year.
After failed attempts at forming elusive concord via extraordinary parliamentary sessions on a number of occasions in past weeks, the last session on 6th August before politicians enter summer recess, was almost perceived as a last throw of the dice with politicians optimistic that an agreement could be finally reached.
However, the heated session was adjourned without a vote on the provincial law, serving as a major setback to the Iraqi political landscape and the US administration. The debate was closed after it was decided to form a committee composed of the heads of parliamentary blocs to find acceptable text for the provincial election bill.
Mahmoud al-Mashahadani, the parliament’s speaker, a source of much controversy over the past couple of weeks, announced September 9th as the start of the second legislative term of parliamentary sessions for 2008.
The tense stand-off amongst Iraqi parliamentarians hinges on the hotly-disputed issue of elections in oil-rich Kirkuk. In spite of frequent pledges by Baghdad to abide by the Iraqi constitution, which under article 140 calls for the normalisation in Kirkuk and the suburbs followed by a referendum to decide eventual control of the district, deadlines and extensions to the implementation of this article have continuously ended without any real progress.
Now the issue of Kirkuk, which Baghdad has left simmering for far too-long, threatens to come to the boil in spectacular fashion. Seemingly, against the will of the Kurds, Arab blocs have sought to delay the process of dealing with Kirkuk even further.
Even as another six months were added to the implementation of article 140 after it missed its original 31st December 2007 deadline, it was hard not to feel a great deal of pessimism that any real change in attitude would be witnessed on the ground.
Indeed, somewhat inevitably the six-month deadline passed and Iraq appears no closer or eager for that matter, to resolving the status of Kirkuk than the decades that preceded it.
Foot-dragging and a lack of desire to implement a constitution adopted by millions of Iraqis in a legal and democratic fashion, has understandably compounded Kurdish frustration.
Now, lawmakers in Baghdad are suggesting methods to resolve the dispute in Kirkuk that are simply too little, too late and which Kurds see as a sure formula of getting the short-straw again.
Intense negotiations in past weeks, was designed to finally bring a level of compromise between all parties, but the level of sentiments expressed suggest that the time of further compromise on the status of Kirkuk may have passed.
Ironically, article 24, a special addition to the provisional and governorate law pertaining to provincial elections is designed to effectively cancel article 140 and suppress Kurdish ambitions to winning formal control of the city.
The inclusion of article 24 in the provincial law was seen as a red-line by Kurds, leading to angry demonstrations throughout Iraqi Kurdistan. However, although in latter sessions the text contained in article 24 was watered down significantly, this was simply not enough to appease weary Kurds.
Under Arab proposals, article 24 would mean that the elections in Kirkuk would be essentially prefixed with the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens sharing the same number of seats. In addition, existing security forces in the region would be replaced by those in the centre and south – a clear attempt to undermine the mainly Kurdish security forces protecting the province.
Although, the law that was passed in spite of mass boycott by Kurdish lawmakers was always going to be vetoed, it was passed by Arab lawmakers more as a message to Kurds rather than in hope that it would by-pass the Iraqi presidential council.
Ruffling Kurdish Feathers
Controversial calls in Baghdad for a delay in the elections in Kirkuk, replace Kurdish security forces and non-implementation of the constitution is designed to ensure Kurds do not wrestle control of Kirkuk. Suggestion and notions such as article 24 are a flagrant attempt to destabilise Kurdish ranks and is specifically aimed at ruffling Kurdish sentiments.
Once Kurdish anger has been stoked, Arabs are aiming to induce a harsh reaction from them. The mass walkout is one example. This naturally places the Kurds as the representation of the spanner in the Iraqi machine. This perception continued in recent parliamentary sessions with Kurds unwilling to cave in to pressure for greater compromise.
Baghdad has failed to implement satisfactory measures to tackle article 140 for many years, and are now blaming the Kurds for the current stand-off.
Increasingly, this places Kurds in the context of over-reaching and as an obstacle to Iraqi reconciliation which could not be further from the truth.
The persistent disputes around the hydro-carbon law, which still has not been passed, and the provincial elections law, has been used as a marketing ploy by Baghdad to discredit the Kurds as genuine partners in the Iraqi union.
Cases of injustices against Arabs and Turcoman minorities in Kirkuk under the hands of the Kurds have been greatly exaggerated. Clearly, foreign proxy elements as well as political factions in Baghdad have sought to influence proceedings by creating instability and promoting an environment of mistrust.
There is plenty of Arab and Turkmen representation in the provincial council as well as security forces for that matter. In fact, many Arabs and Turcoman groups have been in support of implementing article 140 and the eventual annexing of the region to Kurdistan region.
The end-goal of the anti-Kurdish bandwagon, is to create an environment where holding an election would be unfeasible and against the interests of security gains in Iraq. For the Arabs it is simple, as long as there is no democracy in Kirkuk then there is no chance of any Kurdish victory.
Role of the UN
U.N. special representative Staffan de Mistura was appointed to help resolve the issues in Kirkuk by providing mainly “technical” assistance and to study alternatives to implementing a referendum on the status of Kirkuk, which many have touted as a one-way ticket to bloodshed.
However, after six-months of ‘fact-finding and analysis’, UN suggestions fell short of many expectations and provided solutions that were unrealistic and in some cases lacked the right level of political, ethnic and geographical grounding. In either case, Iraq moved no closer to stopping the “ticking time bomb” that de Mistura so boldly claimed to have done at the turn of the year.
Now the UN has entered the provincial council debate by promoting a postponement of elections in Kirkuk until a proposed committee can decide the best method for dealing with the current stand-off.
However, if the current track record of resolving the Kirkuk debate is anything to go by, the Kurds will miss the chance to solidify their hold on Kirkuk and yet nothing more will have been done in another six months time.
Why not hold elections in Kirkuk?
On the surface, according to lawmakers in Baghdad, holding elections in Kirkuk is technically and politically difficult due to working out registrar of voters in Kirkuk coupled with the prospect of holding elections in a volatile climate.
However, in practice, the fear is that an eventual and almost evitable victory of Kurds in the provincial elections in Kirkuk would make implementation of article 140 even more contentious. In many ways, holding elections at the current time would be perceived as a de facto substitute for holding a referendum on the status of the city.
Even if a referendum was never arranged, a Kurdish majority in the Kirkuk council would make things that bit more complicated for Baghdad. It would reinforce the Kurdish view that Kirkuk is a Kurdish city and would lead to more public efforts at annexing of the region.
Furthermore, the recommendations of de Mistura were formulated based on a number of factors such as historical influences but principally previous election results, when devising his suggestions to resolve disputed territories, including Kirkuk. A Kurdish victory at the polls in Kirkuk would make de Mistura’s analysis an interesting reading to say the least.
Kirkuk should be not treated differently to any other place in Iraq. All mutterings in Baghdad around the delay of the vote, is centred around ensuring Kurds do not get their hand on the substantial oil-reserves. This is hardly Iraq’s best kept secret.
If it was not about oil, article 140 would not even appear in Iraqi newspapers, let alone dominate the agenda of neighbouring foreign ministers.
Mosul a different example?
While minority Arabs and Turkmens state their opposition to living under Kurdish control, Kurds living under Arab control is now seen as a formality and a historical expectation in Iraq.
If minority Kurds asked for Mosul to be given special dispensation for the upcoming elections since it’s also a volatile and ethnically mixed city, Arabs would chuckle at the idea.
Then how are the voices of the majority in Kirkuk dampened by unsubstantiated fears of the minority in Kirkuk.
Kirkuk Provincial Council Threat
Almost before the Kirkuk provincial council could finish their threat of requesting to be annexed to the Kurdistan region, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on the phone to voice his concerns.
External interference has only hampered democracy in Iraq, and neighbouring countries have served to only stoke tensions ad influence proceedings for their own benefit, rather than promote a new dawn across their border.
Turkey, in particular has been vociferous in its opposition of any moves toward Kurdish control of Kirkuk. Only this week Turkey called for more UN involvement in Kirkuk and stated the Turkish government was watching all developments in Kirkuk.
However, as Baghdad pressured the council not to follow their threat, Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani congratulated their stance.
Kurds have always stated Kirkuk as a red-line, but now appear increasingly more agitated in the face of the lack of desire by Baghdad to resolve long-standing disputes.
Democracy – the only solution
Ultimately, the one and only solution to the Kirkuk stand-off should not be decided by Kurdish leaders, the Iraqi national Assembly or even the Kirkuk council, but by the people themselves.
The wills of the million is far great than the will of a small number of politicians, who have been elected to serve them. If people in Kirkuk decide to vote in favour of joining the Kurdistan Region, then Baghdad has no basis to confront legal and democratic measures, other than to ensure minority rights are respected.
All talk of complex proposals by the UN and the need to place Kirkuk under special consideration is unnecessary and is only designed to complicate matters. The only viable solution is to let the people decide.
The US should then do its utmost to be the supporter and protectorate of the wishes of the people. Although, the provincial elections is as much vital to George Bush leaving his tenure as president on a positive as much as a move the they consider essential to reconciling Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities, elections should not be placed to appease US political interests but should be in the best interests of all groups in Iraq.
It is also ironic that Turkey as the role-model of democracy for the region is unwilling to accept legal and democratic principles chosen by millions of citizens by a neighbouring country. If there is genuine interest in seeing a stable, plural and democratic age in Iraq, then at the minimum true democratic ideals must be encouraged and not hampered by the US and their so-called allies.
If the voting in Kirkuk should be suspended then voting in all of Kurdistan region should be suspended. More extensions to the resolving elections in Kirkuk would be fruitless without any real desire.
Baghdad wants to slip the Kirkuk rug from under the feet of the Kurds. Kurds should be warned, after all they have had enough time and suffering to read the writing on the wall.