The Kirkuk has been at the historic forefront of the Kurdish nationalist struggle. It has been an area of contention for decades and formed a red-line for Kurdish negotiations with Baathist regime long before the liberation of Iraq in 2003.
Resolution of Kirkuk and disputed territories was a firm Kurdish condition since 2003, enshrined even in the Transitive Administrative Law (TAL), before the onset of the official constitution in 2005.
It has then served as the basis for negotiations with coalition partners in Baghdad in 2003, 2006, 2010 and more than likely in 2014.
Approaching six years since the passing of the deadline for Article 140, is Kirkuk any closer today to formal resolution and a return to Kurdistan than it was in 2003 (or indeed under the Saddam regime)?
The lack of progress in article 140, including the all-important national census is hardly an accident. The intentional foot-dragging is clear to see. Ahead of negotiations to form a coalition government in 2014, Kirkuk will once again be a key Kurdish stipulation. But will the new parliamentary term in 2014 witness anything different with regards to this issue?
The reality is that Baghdad will not give up Kirkuk or any additional territory that easily.
It is no coincidence that as soon as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced oil pipelines to Turkey much to the ire of Baghdad, Iraqi Oil Minister Abdelkarim al-Luaybi was roaming the Kirkuk province with BP CEO Bob Dudley as part of a recent deal between Baghdad and the oil giant to revive Kirkuk’s declining oil fields.
KRG reiterated their objection to the deal which it deemed against the principles of the unconstitutional and illegal.
Yet, in what has become a tit-for-tat, Baghdad also deemed Kurdish deal with foreign oil firms as illegal and had raised warnings over the new oil pipelines which increased the notches in the Kurdish autonomous drive.
Kirkuk sits atop of billions of barrels of oil reserves which have only added to the intensity of the fight over the province.
Baghdad’s move with BP, which had bypassed the KRG, is designed to show authority over disputed territories. This is similar to the onset of the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command by Iraqi Prime Ministry Nouri al-Maliki in 2012 designed to mark Baghdad’s sphere of influence, leading to dangerous escalations between Erbil and Baghdad.
The resolution of disputed territories is one of many unresolved and hotly-contested articles. Many other items such as the status of Peshmerga forces and a national hydrocarbon law linger much in the same shape as 2007.
Baghdad has sought to address the power balance in Kirkuk with electoral law whilst provincial elections have not been held since 2005.
But Kirkuk does not need short-term fixes or a council representation done on a special basis. The solution is already there – article 140. After that proper elections can be held like any other city.
The more that Kirkuk is treated as a special case – the more excuses that argue against article 140.
Mosul is also a mixed city, but where are special laws and equitable distribution of seats? The elections do the talking, as should be the case anywhere else in Iraq or as in any democratic country.
The same round-robin scenario promises to play out in the aftermath of the elections in 2014. Kurds play a hard-bargain, make clear conditions for their support and the Shiite powers agree. Yet soon after, a game of cat and mouse plays out for yet another 4 years.