Just how disputed are “disputed territories” in Iraq? Time to let a full nationwide census doing the talking

There is no doubt that the already tenuous relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region reached new heights in recent weeks. As the Peshmerga and Iraqi army forces became deeply entrenched, respective positions hardened and the drums of war beat more loudly, the fear of a brutal war became a real possibility with the firing of a single bullet.

Frantic mediation in recent weeks by Iraqi political figures and the U.S. governmental have somewhat calmed the situation. Both sides have seemingly agreed to eventually withdraw troops, with local security forces to assume responsibility under committees that are intended to reflect the ethnic balance on the ground.

With any real sigh of relief quickly dampened by deep mistrust and lack of a long-term solution, short-term political arrangements merely buy more time.

The issue of disputed territories will not go away or become any easier to resolve the longer that constitutional articles gather dust on the Iraqi political shelf. On the contrary, it is becoming deeper and tenser with each delay.

The agreement to hand security over to local forces simply passes the problem on. Who should comprise of the local security forces? How do you determine ethnic quotas for such forces? Which group should have more influence over the “disputed areas” based on their assumed numbers?

The bottom line is that the problem once again becomes a numbers game. The makeup of local forces and arriving at this elusive ethnic balance is continuously based on assumptions and assertions, not actual facts.

The very foundation of resolving disputed territories lies in the conducting of a nationwide census. As the English proverb goes “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. A new census in Iraq, which is a key constitutional provision, was delayed in 2007, 2009 and twice alone in 2010.

It is time to move away from claims, counter claims and assumptions and let the facts speak for themselves. Facts are just that, they are based on a reality and not on conjecture and help paint a true picture of the matter at hand.

In most democratic societies a census is a natural and fundamental exercise that helps governments to better understand their citizens, improve planning and to deliver better services to their local populace. Yet Iraq has shied away from a first full national census since 1987 with the pretext that it would inflame security conditions and ethnic and sectarian passions and would lead to the polarisation of Iraq. Any census will only confirm the extent of the polarization of Iraq, Iraq has been polarized from the moment it was artificially stitched together.

The truth is that much like the rest of article 140 where the census forms a key part, Baghdad has failed to implement legal obligations for fear of the reality that it unravels. There is no “technical” reason why a census cannot be held, the Iraqi Ministry of Planning has long trained thousands of enumerators and laid the basis for such a task.

When in a true democracy can someone pick and choose what it decides to implement to divert a decision away from a destined outcome? The real reason for a lack of implementation of a census is that a true picture of numbers in Iraq would tip the political and national landscape in Iraq upside down. In Iraq, the numbers game is everything. It means power, it means leverage and above all it ends “dispute”.

The very nature of the word “dispute” is underpinned by uncertainty and a lack of an official reality. The outcome is not clear so thus no side can make true assertions. In reality, a census in Iraq would mean a de-facto conclusion to all of article 140. If a census showed a clear Kurdish majority as most Kurds staunchly believe and that most Arabs fear, then what will the results of a referendum reveal? A certainty that such disputed territories would opt to be annexed to the Kurdistan Region.

This takes the argument a full circle to just how disputed the “disputed territories” really are and also to Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani’s decree this week to no longer refer to such territories as disputed but instead as “Kurdish areas outside of the Region”. Ironically, almost five years since the deadline for article 140 passed, it is still Baghdad that accuses the Kurd of constitutional violations over their claim to such territories. If Baghdad really wants to abide by the constitution, it should have the courage to hold a comprehensive census and show both Iraq and the international community the clear results.

A census with a true demographic picture of Iraq would also end annual disputes over the proportion of the Iraqi budget that the Kurds are entitled to. The uncertainty in actual figures of the Kurdish population has played to Baghdad’s hand by exerting pressure on the Kurds and diluting Kurdish demands.

The Iraqi national assembly itself is simply a gauge of the makeup of the Iraqi mosaic. Not only does the number of seats won by each group a reflection of the breakdown of the population, the number of seats allocated to each province is merely based on population estimates. Such estimates are further flawed and the result of guesswork as they are primarily based on food ration cards.

Such a basis for power sharing seriously handicaps true implementation of democracy. For example, Kurds in general are not as reliant on ration cards as the rest of Iraq or have not registered their children under such a system, whereas the food ration card have been manipulated and at times abused in the rest of Iraq.

The conducting of a census was a key Kurdish perquisite for joining Maliki’s coalition and was supposedly due to be done within a year. Kurds should strongly reject entering yet another general election without the fulfillment of this key condition.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

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