Tag Archives: Kirkuk

Will yet another electoral term in 2014 lead to any real change on Kirkuk and article 140?

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.

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.

Leaving the fate of Kirkuk to fuzzy democracy while Maliki taunts the Kurds

Iraq has been gripped by a grave political crisis for several months and there appears little intent on the part of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik’s government to sooth tensions by working towards national reconciliation and resorting to constitutional principles.

Maliki spearheaded an Iraqi Council of Ministers meeting this week in the Kirkuk province, which enflamed already tense relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Such an assertive and brazen move by Maliki shows that he is willing to stand up and defy the Kurds in spite of fierce warning by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani in recent months.

In the face of such development, Kurdistan can remain silent at its own peril. While Barzani has been vociferous both at home and abroad regarding the centralist tendencies of Maliki and the rapid drive towards Iraq’s collapse, the PUK and other opposition figures have been much more passive in contrast.

The issue of Maliki’s authorisation tendencies, lack of implementation of constitutional articles and his show of strength by strolling around disputed territories, is pertinent to the whole of Kurdistan and every Kurdish faction must unite and take a stand.

Stoking of hostilities in Kirkuk

The timing and significance of the ministerial meeting, the first of its kind in Kirkuk, is no coincidence. The move by Baghdad was designed to be provocative in nature and highlight clearly to the Kurdish leadership that the identity of Kirkuk is Iraqi and Baghdad’s dominance is far-reaching.

Obviously, people will be quick to point out that Kirkuk is already part of Iraq but it’s the identity of the city that Maliki is emphasising. In simple terms, he will not allow Kirkuk to become a Kurdistani city.

Maliki statements which failed to mention the constitution, is in contrast to Article 140 and principles that formed the very blueprint of the country. It is not for anyone to decide the fate of Kirkuk but the inhabitants themselves, this includes Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens and not specifically one group.

A constitution is the genetic framework of any country, it is the basis by which governments rule and laws are devised. However, in Iraq many articles continue to gather dust on the political shelf and constitutional laws are bypassed all too often.

The implementation of article 140 is not only significant for Kirkuk but for the whole of Iraq. If article 140 is bypassed then affectively the whole constitution is bypassed. Without implementation of all articles that make up the constitution or adherence to constitutional principles, then Iraq is dead.

Battle for Kirkuk

Kirkuk has been a key symbol of Kurdish history and identity for thousands of years – long before any discovery of oil, the fall of the Ottoman Empire or the rise of Arab nationalism.

It has been a historic redline for Kurdistan and to forgo claim to Kirkuk now would be akin to betraying Kurdish legacy, its martyrs and the immense sacrifices Kurds have made.

Of all the Kurdish cities, Kirkuk clearly suffered the most under Baathist rule. Harsh repression and Arabisation policies saw the forced deportation of thousands of Kurds. Kurds were forced to abandon their heritage and succumb to Arab domination in the province.

Ironically, it is now the Arabs that complain of been treated badly. Returning Kurds who seek to reclaim their historic and legal rights are now the ones outreaching. If Baghdad wants to truly entice the Kurds, turn a new page and is sincere about the principles of union with the Kurds, Kirkuk is the first and only place to start.

Unfortunately, it is appearing ever likely that Article 140 will not be implemented unless sentiments in Baghdad drastically change, which looks like a more unrealistic hope by the day.  The implementation of article 140 is overdue by almost 5 years, which tells its own story.

Furthermore, provincial elections in Kirkuk and importantly a national a census have long been delayed by Baghdad. A census is akin to a de-facto referendum on disputed territories, if the demography of Kirkuk shows the Kurds as a majority then it once again only confirms the Kurdish identity of the province.

Baghdad clearly acknowledges that implementation of article 140 would result in its return to Kurdistan. But one cannot pick and choose democracy as its see fit. Baghdad cannot refuse to implement a referendum only because it fears its inevitable outcome.

Kurdistan next steps

The patient waiting game played by the Kurdish leadership clearly has not worked. If Kurds had gone with instincts at the time and unilaterally annexed Kirkuk in 2003, then the issue of the status of Kirkuk would be a foregone conclusion.

Kurds adopted politics and democracy to resolve dispute territories when clearly Baghdad and Arab nationalists were not ready and did not have the stomach for such motions.

Kurdistan needs to be unequivocal in any negotiations in Baghdad – the time for mere threats and rhetoric is long gone. If article 140 is not implemented then the Kurds should back out of Baghdad altogether and hold a unilateral referendum on the city and annex the region.

The Kurdish opposition parties and particularly the PUK have lacked the punch in raising concerns at Maliki. As KRG-Baghdad relations plunge to new lows, the confrontation will only intensify. This requires all Kurdish parties to unite in Kirkuk, in the Kurdistan Region and in Baghdad.

According to the constitution, Kirkuk’s identity is disputed, therefore the KRG has an equal say on the province as Baghdad on political, social and economic issues. The Kurds should hold a KRG Council of Ministers meeting in Baghdad in the same way.

Maliki is clearly showing the Kurds the extent of his power in Iraq and intimidating the Kurds by demonstrating his reach within Iraq. The Kurds need to take action as much as rhetoric to show that Kirkuk remains a Kurdistani city and remains directly in their sphere of influence.

According to a statement, Maliki had quoted “The problem of Kirkuk cannot be resolved by force and interference, but by the will of its people and by keeping its Iraqi identity”. This in itself is contradictory. You cannot adhere to the will of the people and insistent on an identity at the same time – it’s the will of the people and voices of the masses that determine the identity.

Kirkuk having a Kurdish majority does not mean to deny the Arabs and Turkmen populations. Their rights should be closely guarded in any eventuality but as the referendum will highlight, and as history and geography clearly proves, Kirkuk is a Kurdish city. Many Iraqi cities such as Mosul contain large Kurdish minorities so it can clearly work both ways.

Maliki’s ulterior motive

Not only did Maliki intend to make a show of strength to the Kurds, but his move in Kirkuk where Sunni Arab nationalism is strife was designed to reach out and appease Sunni blocs. The Arab nationalist card against the Kurds has long been used to bridge the sectarian divide in Iraq.

The leaders of Arab parties, who strongly reject article 140, were clearly jubilant at Maliki’s visit and hailed its significance. Kirkuk has been largely neglected by Baghdad with the people suffering from a lack of security, employment, investment and poor public services. The Sunnis have suffered a great deal under recent Shiite domination, but clearly sentiments can be fickle as Sunnis were suddenly quick to praise Maliki.

If Sunni’s want best for Kirkuk then they should made strong demands from Maliki to improve security and the crumbling standard of living.

At the same time, if Maliki really wanted to improve conditions in Kirkuk then he should have insisted on initiatives to improve services. If Maliki wants to entice Kurds in Kirkuk, then he could have reassured them on article 140 and highlighted their tragic past as a reason to build new bridges in Kirkuk.

In addition to the Kurds, influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and other key Shiite groups critical of Maliki’s policies have backed Maliki into a corner. However, Maliki is manipulating the sectarian divide and using all his manipulative tendencies and experience in clinging to power in Baghdad to fight his corner.

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.

Battle for Kirkuk Continues

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.

Baghdad foot-Dragging

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.

Article 24

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.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

Did the UN Really Stop the Clock?

In December 2007, as the deadline for the implementation of article 140 of the Iraqi constitution unsurprisingly passed, UN special envoy to Iraq Staffan de Mistura claimed: “…the question of Kikruk was a ticking time bomb. The United Nations has stopped the clock”. In reality however, the UN never stopped the clock, they only added more time to the “ticker”.

After Iraqi political figures agreed to “technical” assistance from the UN, it was hoped that a breakthrough could be finally reached on the hotly-contested territories including oil-rich Kirkuk. That aside, officially article 140, despite Turkoman and Arab rhetoric, is still the only legally binding paradigm for solving land disputes. The decision in December was to extend the deadline by another 6 months. However, only the deepest optimist would have thought that a referendum would be held by 31st June 2008.

The fact that Iraq is unwilling to follow democratic principles adopted by a clear majority speaks volumes about the level of mistrust and animosity gripping the national horizon and lack of genuine appetite for egalitarianism. Iraqis should never have allowed the interference of outside parties in internal affairs, let alone that of the UN. Simply, the UN lacks an adequate understanding on the level of differences rooted amidst the socio-political landscape.

The Kurds have never had representation in the UN and have been commonly persecuted while the UN Security Council has taken no action. Whilst 250,000 Kurds were kicked and beaten without remorse from their historical homes, “compromise” was not a word uttered by Baathist forces. Now those same Kurds, wishing to return home, are been told their legally-enshrined demands constitute overreaching and they must compromise.

In tandem with political progress on article 140, even the UN missed their own deadline to table suggestions to Iraqi leaders by weeks. Finally, those widely anticipated suggestions arrived in Baghdad last week.

Even the first phase of a methodology designed as a stepping-stone for dealing with Kirkuk by resolving less-contested areas was met with much apprehension. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) “first analysis” recommended putting Akra and Makhmour districts under Kurdistan Region control and with the districts of al-Hamadaniya and Mandali to be administered by central government.

The recommendations were based on “the administrative history of the areas and the change that have taken place after 2003 March along with the population structure and 2005 elections”. No matter what historical trajectory is analysed, UNAMI suggestions will always be based on approximations, until the people of every town are consulted in true democratic terms. This simply takes the argument a full circle – no technical agreement can formulate an all-encompassing basis for each region without an unambiguous consultation.

The suggestions were almost immediately criticised by Iraqi lawmakers on both sides of the Arab-Kurdish divide. There was general Arab census that the recommendations were “unconstitutional”, complicated the issue and had no legal basis. The Kurds themselves are unlikely to be happy without the prize asset of Kirkuk returning.

For the Kurds, this is a historical juncture. This is a chance to correct the wrongs of the past in a democratic and legal manner. If Kurds were unwilling to compromise in 1975 over Kirkuk, then any deal in the “new” Iraq of 2008 not involving its rightful return would represent a huge setback. The UN is an international yet generic taskforce when it comes to fiercely-contested regional matters. They will adopt a formula to try and please all parties, regardless of the weight of historical argument. If the UN is truly a taskforce capable of ensuring equal rights and safeguarding stability, then Kurdistan would have been independent long-ago.

The UN formula seemingly side-steps the fact that article 140 is synonymous with Kirkuk. A solution to deal with other less-emotive areas under dispute does not alter the picture a great deal.

Recently, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, stated his administrations willingness for power sharing. If realised, such concessions are likely to be weighted with many caveats. Possibly, for greater compromise by Baghdad on the hydrocarbon-law or the return of all other disputed lands without question. Concessions would give Kurds productive short-term gains as well as a major boost of ties with the Turkish administration, yet the sense of regional defeat may be unavoidable.

Kirkuk has been a historical red-line and remains a future icon of Kurdish prosperity and survival. The will of the majority must not be sacrificed as a political token or gesture.
Regardless, the ticking time-bomb continues its countdown.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.