Of all the current issues in Iraq, the dispute over the oil-rich Kirkuk region could go a long way in deciding future fortunes of the “new” Iraq.
Kirkuk was a persistent thorn in the side of the Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad for many decades and the new Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein has done little to change that, in spite of the fact the stipulations under article 140 of the Iraqi constitution adopted in 2005 was designed to bring a democratic solution to the control of Kirkuk once and for all.
Once the deadline for the implementation of article 140 inevitably passed at the end of 2007 and without much progress, the UN was tasked with the responsibility of diffusing tensions, or in the words of UN special envoy to Iraq, Steffan di Mistura, stopping the ticking time-bomb.
Fast forward to 2009, after many months of fact finding, research and analysis, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) finally submitted their detailed report outlining recommendations to Iraqi leaders on resolving the numerous border disputes, of which Kirkuk is the most notable.
Kurds have ubiquitously accused Baghdad of dragging their heels, and heeding to pressure from neighbouring countries particularly Turkey, who is naturally unfavourable to seeing Kirkuk’s immense oil wealth ‘fall into the hands’ of the Kurds.
As tensions have reached a knife-edge between the Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen, Kirkuk has often been referred as a touch-paper for the rest of Iraq with international powers keen to prevent civil war.
Kurdish frustrations are compounded by Baathist Arabisation policies that saw thousands of Arabs resettle in the area at the expense of the Kurds and the changes to the provincial boundaries to dilute Kurdish population figures.
Now Kurds, who have remained insistent that article 140 is a red line, wait anxiously for resolution of Kirkuk, especially with the US withdrawal plans expected to gather pace. The exact details of the UN report are still unclear, whether the suggestions will lead to an agreement is even more uncertain.
According to KRG Special Representative to the UN, Dindar Zebari, UN Resolution 1770 and 880 gave the UN involvement crucial legitimacy which was aided further by the direct request for “technical” assistance from Iraqi leaders. “The involvement of the UN has been a big help to the political process in Iraq”, remarked Zebari.
According to Zebari, UN recommendations are intended as a “complete package” that is not designed to appease one Iraqi group or any neighbouring country.
“UN is providing consultancy, technical and logistics support, assistance in terms of data, and other criteria that have to be used to formulate solutions. So the UN involvement is essentially in an advisory and consultancy capacity”, stated Zebari who emphasized from an executive perspective that the implementation of any solution can only come from the Iraqi side.
Iraqi leaders now have the opportunity to analyze the report, based on elements that were officially requested for the UN to determine, and come up with their own feedback or recommendations. All four solutions proposed in the report, however, deal with Kirkuk as a single unit.
“The UN reports doesn’t say these areas have to part of a certain authority but may state that according to criteria that have been used, let’s say geographical, historical and cultural backgrounds, previous elections result, the majority of the certain districts of these areas are supporting annexation or support to be part of that authority. However, it does not stipulate that the UN decides,” Zebari reaffirmed.
Whether agreements lead to sustainable solutions is unclear, however Zebari warned that that there must be more urgency to progress.
Zebari emphasized that from a KRG perspective they are eager for a quick solution, and are keen for more compromises amongst all the sides, but moreover any discussion or solutions must be formulated around article 140 of a constitution that is essentially “a package and you can not ignore a part of that package”, otherwise as Zebari warned, “other groups or minorities can take other articles out of the constitution”.
As far as the KRG are concerned, “the solution must be immediate and more urgent, because it affects the political process and the trust between Iraqis in this important period of transition.”
According to Zebari, the UN and international community have a key responsibility in the post-liberalisation of Iraq and “have a key role in successful reconciliation, where the current involvement serves a part of the UN commitment to the political process”. Zebari underlined that the International community are committed to the peace and security of Iraq and still have “a huge responsibility to make Iraq a success.”
Either way, it remains to be seen whether the UN stopped the ticking-tomb or simply just delayed its implementation. The real desire to reconcile, compromise and enforce democratic principles is down to Iraqi’s alone. International powers can facilitate the process but ultimately in Iraq it may be a case that ‘you can take a horse to a well, but not make it drink it’.