Tag Archives: Disputed Territories

Kurdistan to Maliki – your last (last) chance?

As Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki landed in Erbil to chair a rare but symbolic meeting of the Iraqi cabinet in the Kurdish capital and discuss a number of issues with the Kurdish leadership, expectations appeared high.

However, Maliki has shown political shrewdness when backed against a corner in the past, making concessions, striking agreements, renewing promises and proposing committees when the heat has been on, only to prove that rhetoric prevailed over real action and practical steps.

A delegation to Baghdad led by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in May culminated in a decision to form seven committees all geared towards addressing specific issues between Kurdistan and Baghdad which also ended the boycott of Kurdish MPs in Baghdad.

The committees, to be directly by Maliki and Barzani, include ones to oversee reviews of the federal budget, draft oil and gas law, article 140 and overseeing of parliamentary work and Baghdad and Erbil relations.

Kurdistan Massaud Barzani emphasized that the latest round of negotiations are a final chance and that Kurdistan will be forced to seek a “new form of relations” with the central government in Baghdad if negotiations fail to resolve key disputes.

The issues between the KRG and Baghdad have become so deep-rooted, cyclic and predictable that it is hard to see why this time around will be any different.

The Kurdistan leadership has played a role in reaching the current predicament and the lack of progress on historic issues such as disputed terrotories. KRG has rubber-stamped two terms of power for Maliki in return for strategic partnerships.

Yet several years since the first Iraqi elections and over 10 years since the liberation of Iraq, the strategic agreements have not been fully implemented and if anything disputes have become more protracted, entrenched and distant from resolution. Kurdistan should have given a “last chance” to Maliki and Baghdad many years ago.

Maliki was accused of centralist tendencies, inciting sectarian tensions and foot-dragging on constitutional implementation in his first term of power, never mind the second term (or even in a third term if he gets his way).

The relations between Erbil and Baghdad have been shrouded by formation of committees, agreements and political road-maps. But how many more meetings and committees do the Kurd want to participate in?

Kirkuk and disputed territories is a prime example. It is understandable if there are technical delays to implementing complex constitutional articles. But should there be a delay of several months or 6 years? And since there were delays, any sincere government would adopt a plan to meet its legal obligations in the quickest possible time.

This is the same for hydrocarbon law which has gathered dust since 2007, status of Peshermrga forces, national budget etc. In the case of Kirkuk, even a national census, delayed on so many occasions, would have at least marked one achievement. Even that has been sidelined as Baghdad knows it would serve as a de-facto referendum on disputed territories.

Now is the time for practical steps and firm timelines for implementation of issues by the Kurdistan leadership. Until Baghdad resolves disputed territories, KRG and Peshmerga forces have the right to jointly govern and control these regions.

The bitter Sunni protests and the latest cycle of sectarian violence has redrawn sharp lines between Shiites and Sunni and coupled with sectarian polarisation in the wider region, may prove to be even greater than peaks reached in 2007.

Maliki can ill-afford to carry on antagonising ever corner of Iraq (including his own Shiite alliance) and for Iraqi Kurds the time is ripe to seek real concessions. If Baghdad refused to succumb to Kurdish demands when it is at its knees, it will never implement agreements at its peak.

The recent provincial elections only served to highlight the deepening polarisation of the county and weak political picture. Forming a new government and choosing a Prime Minister after elections in 2014 will prove as daunting as ever.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

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.

The Kurdish hand in creating the Maliki monster

Kurds rubber stamped two Maliki terms of power while Maliki has frequently reneged on agreements and sidelined Kurdish demands. After 6 years in power and frequent accusation of centralist tendencies, is the current situation a surprise?

A sharp escalation in the already tenuous relations between the Erbil and Baghdad after a deadly skirmish in Tuz Khurmato between Kurdish and Iraqi forces was followed by frantic efforts to calm a crisis that had seen an unprecedented military build-up from both sides in the disputed areas.

However, an eventful week after negotiations between Kurdish and Iraqi military leaders and political figures, mediated by Speaker in the Iraqi Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi and a high ranking American General, ended with talks collapsing and no agreement, despite promise of a breakthrough after an initial 14 point agreement was earlier agreed.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki scuppered the prospect of any deal, unwilling to meet the key Kurdish condition to abolish the Dijla (Tigris) Operations Command, the very heart of the conflict.

According to Secretary General of the Ministry of Peshmerga, Jabar Yawar, the federal government reneged on the agreement reached earlier in the week after originally approving 12 out of 14 of Kurdistan’s demands but later only agreeing to three.

The Dijla command was created by Maliki for no other reason than to stoke Kurdish sentiments, win over Sunni support and create an Arab nationalist bandwagon that would allow Baghdad to mask a deep political crisis, corruption allegations and the increasing isolation of Maliki, even amongst traditional Shiite allies.

The Dijla command was a way of demonstrating a show of strength to the Kurds and to highlight the extent of Maliki’s powers. If unopposed the Dijla forces would severely dilute and harm Kurdish interests in the disputed territories. In spite of the current sabre-rattling, it is unlikely that Maliki will call the Kurdish bluff. However, Maliki will not back down until he is pushed to the edge or has achieved his political goals.

A show of force to increase sway over the resolution of disputed territories is also a big nail in the Iraqi constitutional coffin and article 140. Either way, Maliki’s actions show that he is not serious in resolving problems with the Kurds and that he is unwilling to relinquish his growing unilateralist hand. When constitutional violations and consolidation of top positions of power goes unhindered, then this spells the death of democracy in Iraq.

For all of Maliki’s faults, the Kurdish parties must also take blame for the current predicament awaiting Kurdish nationalist interests. They knew as far back as 2008 with deployment of Iraqi forces to Khanaqin and in a number of similar instances that Maliki would resort to force to exert his influence and to achieve his goals. This is the same Maliki that Kurdish politicians had saved at key crisis points in the first government.

Kurds frequently accused Maliki of centralist and dictatorial tendencies in his first term of power, long before Kurds essentially rubber stamped his second stint in power and before ironically he accumulated further power by consolidating control over a number of powerful positions under the pretext of a “caretaker”.

Maliki was a key factor in the continuous foot dragging of Baghdad over the implementation of article 140 and the failure to hold a census decreed by law. Maliki’s government frequently objected to Kurdish oil deals while ensuring that efforts to resolve a national hydro-carbon law were left stagnant. Maliki and his government have violated the Iraqi constitution a number of times when it has served their interests, and refused to pay for the budget of Peshmerga forces while on an annual basis striving passionately to reduce Kurdistan’s share of the budget.

Kurdish support for the latest coalition was on the back of guarantees for the implementation of 19 key points that formed the basis of the Erbil Agreement, conditions that Maliki has paid continuous lip service to.

Kurds can hardly be surprised at the predicament they find themselves in. Key Kurdish conditions as part of their support for the first coalition in 2006 were also largely sidelined.

Yet remarkably, fast forwarding to 2012 and 6 years of Maliki rule, Kurds still managed to miss their opportunity to unseat Maliki through lack of unity and lack of clear political accord when it came to promoting Kurdish interests in Baghdad.

A strong motion spear-headed by Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani was essentially thwarted by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK which ironically has a strategic power sharing agreement with the KDP, while Kurdish opposition forces such as the Gorran movement also failed to support the initiative.

Maliki triumphed even at a moment of great weakness and this political victory by managing to conserve power only served to embolden his quest to solidify his sphere of influence.

The Kurdish leaders must use the current crisis as a wake-up call to preserve their unity and to ensure no matter how varied or passionate disagreements within Kurdistan may reach, disunity in Baghdad is a red-line.

The current stand-off between Iraqi and Kurdish forces saw perhaps for the first time unity amongst all Kurdish divisions and this greatly strengthened the Kurdish hand and galvanised their bargaining power in the crisis.

It has stirred the PUK and KDP leadership and particularly Talabani to readjust their positions, which had seen disagreement over the 2007 power sharing agreement, Kurdistan draft constitution and regional relations with Baghdad.

If talk that Barzani had “lost” Talabani had any grounding, Talabani’s revised position is a welcome step for the Kurdistan President.

Maliki has continuously shown his expertise to muster his way out of tight political corners and it is no coincidence that Maliki’s bold actions in the disputed territories coincides with a key political year fast around the corner. 2013 promises a number of key milestones that will act as a gauge for the alliances within Iraq that have shifted drastically and will no doubt dramatically alter the political landscape.

The first key milestone is the nationwide provincial elections in April, followed by regional parliamentary elections and not forgetting the national elections in 2014. There are also crucial provincial elections across Kurdistan Region in 2013 which will reveal the ever-changing balance of power in Kurdistan.

Maliki is in a race against time to conduct the provincial elections and beat any no-confidence vote. When a smart politician loses friends, he works hard to make new ones.

Maliki needs to rethink his alliances that have shifted considerably since 2010. He single-handedly alienated the Sunni’s this year through the issuance of a death warrant on Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and exchanged fierce rhetoric with al-Nujaifi, ironically mediator in the current crisis between the Kurds and Maliki and a number of other prominent Sunni figures.

His own State of Law alliance is shaky at best and Maliki may well need to reach out to Sunnis to cling to power. His onetime Sadrist ally, Moqtada al-Sadr, is drifting further and further from Maliki and his recent statement spoke volumes,   “the Iraqi spring will come against corruption, sectarianism, and those engaged in corruption and terrorism.”

Maliki in a way scarified the trust and support of Talabani by opting to reach out to Sunnis, and Talabani’s angered stance was on clear display when he recently called on the governing Shiite bloc to either apply pressure on Maliki to change his stance or replace him outright. Talabani accused Maliki of effectively announcing a state of emergency through the establishment of Dijla command, which is not within Maliki’s powers.

But such is the unfortunate situation of Iraqi politics, that even if they oust Maliki, it will take them several more months to agree on a new leader and build a new alliance.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

Let Iraqis stand up and be counted – enough of foot-dragging over the census

In most countries, the conducting of a national census would be a logical and straightforward periodic exercise that provides governments with key data pertinent to its citizens, facilitating affective socio-economic planning, improved delivery of public services, forecasting of future growth and generally providing a better understanding of the very people they are elected to serve.

However, much owed to the disparate and fragmented nature of the Iraqi socio-ethnic horizon, the numbers game has huge significance in Iraq in more ways than one. Where normally a census would be a question of numbers and not politics, in an Iraq that houses a diverse and historically tense mosaic, results of any census are just the fuel for the political platform.

With each group entrenched in deep mistrust, numbers means power and a way for one side not become sidelined or subjugated by another. 

With the valuable substance that the census promises to provide, it has invariably become one of those elusive constitutional principles that have continually been sidelined for one reason or another in the new Iraq.

It was perhaps of little surprise when the Iraqi government announced its latest delay on the conducting of the census set for 5th December 2010. This was the fourth such postponement since its original date in 2007, where it was first canceled due to the crippling sectarian violence at the time.

While Iraqi leaders met this week to discuss the very issue, a new date has yet to be confirmed. As Iraqi President Jalal Talabani stressed the importance of carrying out this census in the soonest possible time, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki admitted that there were no longer security constraints in the way of implementing the census.

The leaders agreed to form committees with view to resolving the current issues.

The timeline for the census has been stretched for its undoubted effect on the status of disputed territories. In fact, as a key step under article 140 of the constitution, the census is a milestone step before a referendum can take place.

The crux of Baghdad’s discomfort is the undoubted ammunition that the results of the census will provide in the fierce political stakes, namely distribution of oil reserves and the status of Kirkuk.

As such, the census has become the staging ground for the struggle between Kurds and Arabs, as opposed to promoting any real inter-Arab friction. Simply put, there is a great fear that the census will make the Kurds the masters in their current disputes with Baghdad and firmly tip the scales in their favor.

If a census was to be held tomorrow without the three Kurdish provinces as was the case in 1997, there would be no hesitation, highlighting that that the reluctance in holding any census is fuelled at curbing Kurdish aspirations.

The US, Turkey and Baghdad have persistently tried to thwart the census, labeling it as a product that will dilute a sense of nationalism and unity. However, why should a principle widely conducted throughout the West be postponed only because it would appear that results would benefit one side and not another?

At this moment in time, the exact composition and nature of Iraq’s socio-ethnic framework is based on much guesswork. For example, due to immense Arabisation policies of the past and a process of ongoing normalisation with Kurds returning to Kirkuk, it is simply unclear who commands what portion of the Kirkuk cake. At various intervals, Turkomen, Arabs and Kurds have all claimed to be the majority.

A census would finally answer many burning questions about the countries breakdown. As much as it would be hard to stomach for the “losers” of the census, facts are facts. A census is an analysis of the reality on the ground and this reality whether confirmed officially or otherwise is still in fact reality.

Those who fear that the census will lead to the polarization of Iraq are short-sighted. Iraq was polarised from the moment it was artificially stitched together at the time of its creation.

Any census will only confirm the extent of the polarization of Iraq.

Furthermore, due to the segmented nature of the Iraqi landscape, the application of democratic values over the past several years has only serve to highlight this clear fragmentation.

In this light, the national elections are nothing short of a national census as opposed to a classic democracy. The Kurds will vote for the Kurds, the Shiites for the Shiites and so on. There are always going to be slight variations to this rule but the underlining facts remain the same.

One look at the victors of the recent polls in each province along with the breakdown of the provincial council seats will already indicate the ethno-sectarian breakdown of that region.

The Iraqi national assembly is another clear gauge of the makeup of the Iraqi mosaic. The number of seats won by each major group is generally reflective of the population breakdown.

This clear disparity was one of the major reasons in the great delay in forming a government that satisfied the different the agendas of each group.

For the Kurds, one of their greatest fears was joining another coalition that would not fulfill its promises. The nineteen points that formed the terms of alliance were agreed by in full al-Maliki but it is not clear how keen Baghdad would be to implement certain measures, especially in light of the risk of upsetting the sectarian balance with their Sunni brethren who are on a collision course with key Kurdish demands relating to oil and disputed lands.

The holding of the census is the first crucial litmus test of the new coalition’s appetite to fulfill their vows. The Kurds may well be the main gainers from the census but this is no reason to indefinitely postpone constitutional principles.

It should not be forgotten that facts that the census will clearly portray can also be a factor for political reconciliation, for example, the allocation of the percentage of the national budget can be settled in a transparent way.

Clear statistics can also help Baghdad in formulating affective planning in the spheres of education, housing, public health and transportation, which are all essential for the government to serve its people in the best possible way. In addition, it will answer many key questions such as the number of orphans, widows and people forced to relocate.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

With the numbers game so prevalent in Iraq, the national census will rock the political horizon

The upcoming national census due to be held on 24th October 2010 holds additional significance for an Iraq that almost seven months after the staging of national elections has still failed to form a new government. The importance of this elusive and milestone national census, the first across all of Iraq since 1987, can not be underestimated.

Iraq is a disparate nation where statistics have huge significance. While in most places this event would be a question of numbers and not politics, in an Iraq that encompasses an enthralling and tense mosaic as a result of its artificial formation by imperial powers, it’s almost impossible to discount the huge significance of this census in shaping and influencing the political arena.

The conducting of a census has proved controversial for a number of reasons, none more so than its undoubted direct affect on the status of disputed territories. Under article 140 of the constitution the implementation of the census is the milestone step before a referendum can be held in Kirkuk and other areas fiercely contested between Kurds and Arabs.

As Baghdad has dragged its heels on the implementation of article 140, clearly for fear of seceding power and territory to the Kurds and due to strong pressure from neighbouring countries, the census in turn has been delayed a number of times.

At a time when the formation of a new government has proved painstaking at best and security is deteriorating exponentially, voices from predominantly Arab circles calling for yet another postponement of this elusive census was predictable.

In reality, if the census was to be held without the three Kurdish provinces as was the case in 1997, Baghdad would not hesitate to hold the census even under the current tense climate. Simply put, the census directly pits Kurds against Arabs in the fierce political stakes, hence the long-term apprehension of holding this critical national poll.

While the principle of a census itself is not politically driven, in Iraq numbers means power and power is a prelude to wrestling as much influence and share of the national cake.

Those who believe that a census would be the source of the polarisation of Iraq are simply wide of the mark. This census does not lead to a polarisation of Iraq, for it merely confirms the extent of the existing polarisation of Iraq.

No matter how the matter is viewed, Iraq is a bitterly divided country that houses a number of ethnic and religious groupings who existence under the Iraqi banner has been fraught with historical mistrust and animosity.

Furthermore, although masked under a different light, this is hardly the first post-Saddam census in Iraq. With the fragmented nature of the social horizon, each of the national elections held thus far have been nothing short of a high-level census.

The formula is simple. Kurds vote for Kurdish parties, Arab Shiites for Shiite parties, Arab Sunnis for Sunni parties and so on. There are of course general exceptions to this rule in Arabic circles with more cross-sectarian political coalitions in the last elections but the post-ballot patterns remain essentially the same.

Analysis of the previous election results will broadly determine the nature of the outcome from the census. For example, the recent national elections in Kirkuk were a direct contest between Arabs and Kurds jockeying for power. The current distribution of seats in the Iraqi national assembly is affectivity a snapshot of the demographic breakdown of Iraq.

The census will have by far the greatest implication on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. With the normalisation process incomplete to say the least, there is a great chance that Kurdish ranks will be swelled further. In this case, the census essentially becomes the de-facto referendum that most Arabs and Turkmens have long feared and proactively attempted to stall.

The results of the census merely confirm the results of a referendum in Kirkuk and disputed territories. In this respect, even if article 140 is stalled further and referendums are never held in Kirkuk, a census that clearly shows a Kurdish majority naturally provides the best political ammunition possible for the Kurds.

A census that shows a Kurdish majority in the disputed areas can almost be taken as the will of the people to become annexed with the KRG as opposed to remaining under Baghdad control.

One of the reasons why the census pits Kurds versus Arabs as opposed to promoting inter-Arab friction is the fact the census omits sectarian based questions. It will show how many Arabs there are but crucially it steps a major landline in not providing a breakdown of Sunnis or Shiites within Arabic sphere.

Ironically, the census does propose the Yezidi’s and Shabbak’s as separate groupings so there is a danger this may harm Kurdish representation.

In addition to the all important step of deducing a rundown of Iraq’s ethnic identity, the census will also ascertain many other keys answers from the nation such number of widows, disabled people and orphans and those who have been forced to move.

While most parties point to the census as something that will further stoke tensions at a delicate tenure in the new Iraq, it is often forgotten that the census can actually be a factor for reconciliation.

After all, as long as the census count is vigilantly analysed and prepared by Iraqis with representation from all major groups and with key UN input and monitoring, facts do not lie.

Kurds and Arabs have bickered at length over the distribution of the national budget with the KRG receiving a portion that they deem equal to their numbers in Iraq which Baghdad has ubiquitously contested. However, no politician should doubt this breakdown on the back of clear evidence from the census.

In a similar vain, if the census shows clearly how the vote is going to be swayed in any future referendum on disputed territories, this provides no excuse to delay the implementation of the constitution forever.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

Interview with Dindar Zebari (KRG Special rep. to UN)

In your opinion, is the United Nations in a position to resolve a complicated internal dispute such as Kirkuk?

Let me first take this angle on the subject, the UN involvement in finding a resolution on the so-called disputed areas is based on a UN Resolution 1770 and after after 2008, 1880. These two resolutions are crucial to the legitimacy of involvement on the part of the UN. The UN has a mission in Iraq today; this mission is a political one, as well as construction and humanitarian one, which are supported by the Iraqi authorities. The UN involvement on the disputed areas including of Kirkuk came upon the request from Iraqi officials, adding another angle of legitimacy. One angle is the UN resolution that states for the UN special representative and Secretary General to help Iraqi leaders.  It doesn’t say Iraqi central or Iraqi regional government but from Iraqi leaders to resolve internal borders disputes, internally. This as a format used for the draft resolution of 1770 and the later resolution of 1830.

The second legitimate argument for the freedom of UN involvement came upon the request of the Iraqi leaders themselves.  Iraqi leaders requested assistance for United National Secretary General special representative to Iraq, Steffan di Mistura, in later December 2007, when article 140 expired as per the timetable set in the Iraqi constitution.

When the UN came in on exactly the first day Article 140 expired, it was upon on the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and KRG Prime Minister Nerchirvan Barzani, to help to extend the resolution and solution of the subject. So timetable was extended, and the UN officially intervened on the request of the Iraqi leader. UN is providing consultancy, technical support, general report, logistics, support in data, criteria that have to be used for the solution. So the UN involvement is an advisory and consultancy capacity, to advice Iraqi leaders in the solution of these. But the executive side, in terms of implementing any solution is on the Iraqi side

In other words, any report is not prescriptive?

The UN reports, we have in our hands, 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, but it does not say the UN decides.

One of first things that Steffan di Mistura said when he headed the mission, was that the UN stopped a “ticking time bomb” in Kirkuk, have they really stopped the time-bomb?

I believe the involvement of the UN has been a big help to the political process in Iraq, because one of the main current disputes is around the internal borders, including districts and sub-districts.  Article 140 is an Iraqi article, part of a constitution voted by the Iraqi people, therefore any delay in implementing the constitution will create further disagreement and differences, and I believe time is not in favor of further delays, UN has been pushed forward to help bring Iraqi authorities around the table for discussions and start negotiations on how to implement this article.

Do you think that Steffan di Mistura can enforce the implementation of Article 140 regarding Kirkuk?

According to Resolution 1830, the UN does not have the decisive or the executive power to enforce any part of the article or the constitution. But the UN support s the constitution and I believe this is an important fact for the Kurds, as this report is not in fact in favor of the Kurds, Arabs or Turkmen but in favor of every side.  If negotiations are geared towards all sides, they have to favor mechanism of negotiations that to lead to the success for everyone. Sustainable solutions are important, not just decisions made by the central or regional authorities.  This is the first time we have this piece of work conducted internationally with help of international communities, not just with the UN by the way, but with other foreign powers in Iraq such as the Americans and Britain.

Can the UN take a completely impartial view of the dispute over Kirkuk, in light of heavy political pressure from regional governments or internal pressure in Iraq? In other words will such pressures, predetermine how the report is shaped?

The UN report is in its final draft. We know it has been shaped towards and to satisfy the Iraqi leaders including Iraqi President, Iraqi Vice President, Iraqi Prime Minister, KRG Prime Minister and KRG President,

The report has been given to all 5 leaders, to read, analyze and come back on the technical details submitted. I am sure all 5 leaders will come back to Steffan Di Mistura and to the UNAMI mission by saying these are our observations and afterwards come up with another set of recommendations. So if there are deemed to be mistakes, then there is an opportunity to deal with this.

Looking at it from a Kurdish perspective, do you believe that before the report has already been issued, Steffan di Mistura may have a predefined mindset before he issues the report due to external political pressures, say from Turkey?

I don’t believe the report will redrafted or redesigned, the report has been finally produced after months of studies. What has been given to the authorities, these are the five leaders of Iraq, to take into consideration the elements that had been officially requested to the UN to determine. The five leaders will read the report as it stands, I suppose in the next couple of days, their final observations will be given to UNAMI, to take into consideration if there are facts and figures but not the objectives. I don’t believe the UN is taking observations from one sector of Iraqis or from neighboring countries, this is a complete package that they we come up with.

The most important thing I can gather from your replies, is the that whatever the shape of the, the report will be neutral and will be a very balanced report that serves every side

This is what we hope, of course.

What is the KRG stance towards the report at the moment?

KRG has been very clear on any options regarding disputed territories, that regardless of timetable or transitional period, there must be a solution and this solution must be quick. KRG is looking forward to counterparts, official counterparts, governmental counterparts to sit down and discus how to implement this report frankly and KRG looks forward to more compromises amongst all Iraqis, and the solution must be immediate and more urgent, because it affects the political process, it affects the trust between Iraqis in this period of transition.

The KRG also believes in working together with Iraqis and taking the support as an advisory side of it, as another recognition that there must be solution, there must be no alternative to 140. it doesn’t matter on 140 on what practical capacity, or it will be implemented on what geographical areas or the means and mechanisms of the implementation, the power sharing will not make any difference, what is important is to implement the solution.

Kurdish leaders have been adamant that article 140 is the defining principle behind resolving the conflict, is the issue here how we get to implement 140 or alternative 140

I believe for many months the discussion was how to implement article 140, because 140 is an Iraqi constitutional article and no one can say that this article must be neglected, because the constitution is  a package and you can not ignore a part of that package, otherwise the other sides groups or minorities will take other articles out of the constitution, so you have to look at it as a package

Do you feel confident that stalemate on Kirkuk can soon be broken?

I don’t look it like that frankly, I believe this report has been, my personal view as KRG chief coordinator to the UN relations and as an envoy of the KRG the UN, because I have been working hard for the past 2 or 3 years to convince all sides to come and help, don’t forget that inside article 140 there is a clear indication that if Iraqis can not find a solution for the internal borders of the districts and sub districts of Iraq, they might approach for international arbitration , and from that side of the constitution, I believe bringing the UN to the process and bringing advisers from the international committee is a huge asset that Iraq can use today, and it’s a huge asset for the Iraq political process, since there must be a solution

With regards to the UN role in general, the UN is a massive organization to support human rights, social development, and other factors, is the UN doing enough to help Kurdistan and ensure that the Region has the representation it needs?

There is no sentence or indication internationally that UN is an independent position at current.  UN is an international created by the states and composed of multi international entities.

But UN has a policy towards its own member states, and UN has a responsibility to preserve the security of its own member states, we have seen from resolution 688, there are problems in Iraq. Sometimes humanitarian problem, but I think this report made the problem of the Iraqi Kurds in Iraq a political problem, and the UN has another responsibility in Iraq, which means the UN has to support the political process in Iraq since the collapse of the regime in 2003 and I think the Iraqi Kurds, are part of the process, as the region is recognized by the UN as well as the federal nature of the country. This region is the first region to share power with central government, and I believe there has been mismanagement or misunderstanding, therefore UN has a role in successful reconciliation, and the current involvement is a part of the UN commitment to the political process.

It goes back to the early question, therefore, the UN must be impartial?

Certainly, the approach must have impartial and certainly must be neutral, otherwise the UN can not give solutions

Do you think the solution in the respect of Kirkuk, since it’s such a tentative issue, we have seen mutterings from many sides, many neighboring countries

It is a different scenario, if we compare UN involvement in the last 20 years ago in Iraq or its member states by today, if you compare, frankly because in Iraq of today you still have foreigners that control some of the political process in Iraq, when I say controlling its because they are part of the international pact to support Iraq, you still have multi national forces in Iraq, that still have a huge responsibility of the international community to make Iraq a success. And I think the time is very crucial for this sort of report to come out because in Iraq today, it’s not just Iraqis themselves that can make decisions

in many areas Iraqis failed to make a decision, and I think I stand against let say it’s a purely Iraqi matter, that has to be Iraqi wide supported or solved I say no, because Iraqis have not sorted out, Iraqis leaders have not implemented the constitution, and I think when we have a problem to implementation, and the state, stability and security of the county is in danger, therefore its an international responsibility. Therefore they must be involved, they must help to sort out and bring peace and prosperity to Iraq

With regards to the recent Amnesty International Report, the KRG have been quite proactive in their reply, to the issue of human rights and taking the report seriously. I just want to get a brief perceptive from your pint of view, on how the Kurds will approach the Amnesty International Report?

I am personally a member of the high committee of this government to respond to the Amnesty International report, setup by PM Barzani, myself, the secretariat and also several ministers and key security department chiefs in this region to respond to the Amnesty International report

Amnesty International Report is something we took seriously, we believe that there are shortages in many areas, but we also believe that the Amnesty international report must be somehow more specific and targetable, otherwise it would undermine its help to us. we have setup special committees to come back to make reform, we have already taken a number of practical steps for the last 2 years frankly, and PM Barzani is heading many meetings and many conferences and awareness in this region, to help to bring records of human rights to international standards

We took it seriously, and don’t forget that today Iraqi Kurdistan is open to all monitors and we have given access to all monitors to evaluate and scrutinize, this is something we have to get credit for, there are mistakes by officials, there have been mistakes due to shortages of laws and procedures, there are mistakes because law enforcement in some areas have been neglected, and this something that can not be resolved overnight. And we need to work to achieve it.

I have to admit that there is a well decision making body that is promoting the respect of human rights, and the we come back Amnesty Rights and other human rights reports, we want to be pragmatic, we want to be up to the responsibility, and we have to admit and take the report with an open heart and look for resolutions

One final question, with the upcoming elections in Kurdistan region, elections are always unique period, what is your opinion on how the next elections may strengthen the Kurdish democratic experience.

I believe these elections will be another addition to the legitimacy of the setup of this reign, elections always brings back credibility, transparency and trust, from the authorities to the people and also from the people to the authorities.

KRG has been a leady party of democracy in Iraq and we want to once more capable of doing so, KRG has a lot of peace, stability and security, and international minorities can use that peace and security to come in and help the process itself. We have invited the UN international community and a number of European countries to supervise these elections.

I believe that these elections will prove once more that this region is progressing, and the government is doing good and I believe the selection of the presidency of the region will also give another legitimacy to the region, and another reminder to international community and in Iraq of today, we are facing different realities, different type of government, there is a regional government and this region has its own vision and principles

This will serve as another commitment of Iraqi Kurds to the sovereignty and unity of the country.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

Breaking the Kirkuk deadlock?

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’.

First Published On: The Media Line

Other Primary Sources of Republication: Kurdistan Regional Government, Kurdish Globe, Rudaw, Peyamner, eKurd, PUK Media, Online Opinion, Various Misc.