Kirkuk and the po­lit­i­cal stand-offs in Iraq

The Kurdish Globe - - EDITORIAL - Go­ran Sabah Ghafour

Kirkuk has an eth­ni­cally mixed pop­u­la­tion, and has ex­pe­ri­enced dra­matic de­mo­graphic changes in the course of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. Kurds, Turk­men and Arabs lay con­flict­ing claims to this re­gion, and all have their his­tor­i­cal ac­counts, as well as mem­o­ries to sub­stan­ti­ate their claims. Since April 2003, thou­sands of in­ter­nally dis­placed Kurds have re­turned to Kirkuk and other Ara­bized re­gions to re­claim their homes and lands which have since been oc­cu­pied by Arabs from cen­tral and South­ern Iraq. Kurds make up an es­ti­mated 52 per­cent of Kirkuk’s pop­u­la­tion. Arabs rep­re­sent 35 per­cent, while Turk­men, eth­nic Turks with close ties to Turkey, make up 12 per­cent. Other mi­nori­ties in­clude Chris­tians, ap­prox­i­mately 12,000 live in Kirkuk cur­rently.

USA pull­out plan in Iraq pleased most Iraqi fac­tions, but wor­ried Kur­dish lead­er­ship be­cause USA is per­ceived as a close and trusted ally. Iraq with­out USA pres­ence raised many con­cerns, and has fu­eled ten­sions be­tween Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties in North and cen­tral Bagh­dad government. While USA troops were on ground there were less hos­til­i­ties be­tween Bagh­dad’s cen­tral government and Kur­dish lead­er­ship and con­se­quently the USA was per­ceived as a force for keep­ing peace be­tween dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and eth­nic groups.

One of the rea­sons Kirkuk has be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant, is in the fact that it has large oil re­serves. This is why the Bagh­dad cen­tral government has ex­pressed ‘Arab’ claim over the re­gion be­cause if it did not have oil re­serves, lit­tle at­ten­tion would be paid to it. How­ever, for Kurds this re­gion rep­re­sents more than oil. It is the heart of Kur­dis­tan, where Kurds have fought against Iraqi regimes for decades and re­belled against forced as­sim­i­la­tion move­ments.

In 2010, the United Na­tions pro­posed a plan to defuse ten­sions in Kirkuk by giv­ing it a ‘spe­cial sta­tus’ where both Iraq and Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Government (KRG) would ex­er­cise power over it while it was fi­nanced from Bagh­dad. The drafted plan was to cre- ate a power-shar­ing sys­tem in an at­tempt to avoid ex­plo­sion of eth­nic vi­o­lence, and po­ten­tially avoid a civil war in the re­gion. This idea was re­jected by KRG’s Min­istry for Ex­tra-Re­gional Af­fairs. Mo­hammed Ih­san did not be­lieve po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy in Kirkuk is an op­tion, in­stead he ar­gued “UN can­not solve Kirkuk alone, I call Iraqi par­ties to use di­a­logue in re­solv­ing this is­sue, and we should de­pend on the re­sults of 2005 elec­tion in coming to a de­ci­sion”.

A se­nior of­fi­cial has said, Kirkuk can only be re­solved by ar­ti­cle 140 in the Iraqi con­sti­tu­tion. The sched­uled Kirkuk ref­er­en­dum is a cen­tral part of the Kirkuk nor­mal­iza­tion process that will ul­ti­mately be the de­mar­ca­tion of whether the Kur­dish re­gions within the Iraqi prov­inces of Diyala, Kirkuk, Salahudeen and Nin­eveh are an­nexed to the Iraqi Kur­dis­tan re­gion. The ref­er­en­dum was ini­tially planned for 15 Novem­ber 2007, but was de­layed to 31st of De­cem­ber, and then fur­ther de­layed for six months. The Kur­dish al­liance has em­pha­sized that the de­lay was for tech­ni­cal rea­sons as op­posed to re- cent po­lit­i­cal ten­sions.

Some of the con­tested is­sues be­tween KRG and Bagh­dad in­clude Kirkuk, ar­ti­cle 140, the bud­get, the role of Kur­dish armed and se­cu­rity forces, oil deals, and dis­puted ar­eas. Ten­sions have per­sisted and deep­ened to an un­ac­cept­able level, prompt­ing Pres­i­dent of Kur­dis­tan re­gion to warn Bagh­dad, “Pa­tience has lim­its, the ten­sions be­tween Kur­dis­tan Re­gion and Bagh­dad can­not stay un­re­solved for­ever”, adding that the Kur­dis­tan re­gion is al­ways ready to ad­dress th­ese is­sues through di­a­logue and con­sti­tu­tional mea­sures.

Un­for­tu­nately if the cur­rent ten­sions es­ca­late, and lead to a civil war the goals of USA would be jeop­ar­dized in main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity across Iraq. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant be­cause the elec­tions set for April 20, 2013 will change the course of Iraqi pol­i­tics, and could po­ten­tially shift the bal­ance of pow­ers. More im­por­tantly, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama promised ‘peace­ful elec­tions’ and sta­bil­ity in Iraq while USA troops pulled out. For this rea­sons it is vi­tal that sta­bil- ity is main­tained across Iraq be­cause if civil war erupts it would taint USA’s im­age and show them in a crit­i­cal light once more.

The United States troops with­drawal was grad­ual, and em­pha­sis was put on the fact that at least 120,000 Amer­i­can troops re­mained on Iraqi soil un­til the elec­tions of De­cem­ber 2009 were fin­ished. Im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the elec­tions, the pull-out con­tin­ued and mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions ended on 31st of Au­gust 2010. How­ever, with­out the pres­ence of USA troops, the up­com­ing gen­eral elec­tion could be prob­lem­atic.

Although the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­pected 3550,000 troops to re­main on Iraqi soil af­ter the pull-out plan, the Iraqi government pres­sur­ized the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion into agree­ing to re­move all USA troops by the end of 2011. Con­se­quently, re­gard­less of how Iraqi pol­i­tics are shaped, and where it leads to, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has lit­tle con­trol over it.

Ali Hem­dani is a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist re­sid­ing in Kirkuk, and he be­lieves that there are three main con­cerns which must be dealt with. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Iraq is un­sta­ble, and this is be­cause Iraqi pol­i­tics is not ori­en­tated around demo­cratic rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, or di­a­logue. In­stead the army, and mil­i­tary sup­port is given pri­or­ity, which is why ten­sions in this re­gion could eas­ily es­ca­late. Ac­cord­ing to Hem­dani the is­sues that con­cern Kirkuk are po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, ter­ror­ism and lack of di­a­logue.

The Kur­dish lead­ers are wor­ried and con­cerned about the USA pull­out plan be­cause of the lack of in­flu­ence they will have in the fu­ture. The Ma­liki ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends on buy­ing F16 jets from USA, and this fur­ther wor­ries Kur­dish ad­min­is­tra­tion about the fu­ture in­ten­tions of the Ma­liki-led government. Noth­ing seems cer­tain about the fu­ture of Iraq in a chang­ing Mid­dle East, with rev­o­lu­tion sweep­ing neigh­bor­ing re­gions such as Egypt and Tu­nisia. How­ever, there is no doubt that the Kurds will not give up on re­claim­ing their rights in Kirkuk or other Ara­bized re­gion.

Po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors have said, if the USA oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq was a mis­take, then the pull-out plan is a big­ger mis­take be­cause many sen­si­tive is­sues within Iraq still re­main un­re­solved. For in­stance, the ex­is­tence of po­lit­i­cal mili­tias in Iraq is a se­ri­ous prob­lem that still re­mains.

There is an in­cred­i­ble amount of con­cern given to the se­cu­rity of Iraq, and while we ex­am­ine the se­cu­rity is­sues that Iraq faces, what is of­ten for­got­ten about is the so­cial prob­lems that are ne­glected in the process. Iraq was once home to a gen­er­a­tion of in­tel­lec­tu­als that were boasted about through­out Mid­dle East. It was a re­gion that peo­ple came to be ed­u­cated, a place where fe­male schol­ar­ship thrived, and where sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies were rife. Now this beau­ti­ful re­gion has turned into a sick­en­ing game of power. The is­sues of se­cu­rity are given pri­or­ity, but in the fu­ture there will be greater is­sues with the cul­ture the past ten years of war and in­sta­bil­ity has cre­ated.

A view of a mosque in­side Kirkuk's an­cient ci­tadel.

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