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Kirkuk: Suicide Blast Raises Political Heat

Heightened tensions following bomb attack cause delay to parliamentary negotiations on electoral law.
By Hazim al-Sharaa

Negotiations over key election legislation have stalled as a result of the political fallout from a suicide bombing that killed up to 22 protesters in Kirkuk this week, according to an Iraqi lawmaker.



The draft law – which Iraq’s presidential council sent back to parliament – is unlikely to move forward soon because of rising political tensions between parliamentary factions following the bombings, said Muhammad Tamim of the Sunni-led Iraqi Front for National Dialogue.



On July 28, a female suicide bomber reportedly targeted a crowd of Kurdish protesters, who were demonstrating against the proposed law on local elections, killing 22 and injuring at least 150.



While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, it bears similarities to previous bombings by Sunni Arab extremists. According to reports, many people blamed Turkoman extremists for the bombing – and, soon afterwards, a crowd of angry Kurds began attacking Turkoman political offices.



Reports that Turkoman guards had shot Kurds running toward a Turkoman building sparked a row between rival Kurdish and Turkoman members of parliament who were debating the election legislation in parliament that day.



Ongoing disputes over the legislation have been holding up provincial council elections, which were slated for October 1, but are expected to be delayed. Khalid Al-Attiya, a deputy parliament speaker, told the Associated Press last week that they could be pushed back until early 2009.



The United States is pushing for the provincial elections to take place in an effort to boost the representation of Sunni Arabs, who boycotted 2005 provincial polls.



The presidential council, led by Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, rejected the draft law which parliament passed controversially last week.



A major source of conflict as lawmakers debate the draft is how to allocate local council seats in the disputed city of Kirkuk, to which both Kurds and Turkomans lay claim.



The proposed law guaranteed an equal number of provisional council seats for each of the three main ethnic groups in Kirkuk – Kurds, Turkomans and Arabs. If passed, it also would have delayed provincial elections and moved Iraqi forces into Kirkuk, which is now politically and militarily controlled by the Kurds.



Kurdish and some Shia Arab lawmakers boycotted the original parliamentary poll, saying a secret ballot vote held by MPs held on a provision of the law dealing with Kirkuk was unconstitutional.



The Kurds believe they are the majority in Kirkuk and argue that a referendum, rather than power-sharing agreements, should decide who controls the oil-rich province.



This week’s suicide bombing and subsequent skirmishes have exacerbated tension between the ethnic groups.



There’s disagreement between Kurds and Turkomans over what happened following the bomb attack.



Kurds claim that protesters ran toward the Turkoman Front’s building to seek shelter, while Turkoman representatives claimed that Kurds had stormed and set fire to the office, injuring party officials.



Tamim said the Turkoman Front was attacked, leading to “an extremely embarrassing situation”, and creating a setback to negotiations over Kirkuk.



“The incident [following the bombing] has severely affected the ongoing negotiations with the Kurdistan Alliance to reach a consensus solution for the issue of Kirkuk,” he said.



He went on to say that lawmakers had decided “to find another time for negotiations”. Parliament will begin a month-long recess on July 31.



However, Kurdistan Alliance MP Khalid Shwani denied that Kurds attacked the Turkoman office.



He said the Turkoman Front was dodging demands by Kirkuk police to turn over Turkoman guards who fired shots from the building, and accused the party of “breaking the law and violating democratic expression”.



Saadeddin Ergec, a lawmaker who heads the Turkoman Front, stormed out of parliamentary negotiations after learning that Kurds had attacked the Turkoman offices, according to The New York Times.



“I can’t practice democracy at the parliament while the dictatorship is attacking and burning the headquarters of the Turkoman Front in Kirkuk and burning and looting other Turkoman establishments,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.



Ergec called for Turkomans to act with restraint and demanded that parliament investigate the Kirkuk bombings. He said that “certain parties are trying to destabilise Kirkuk”, but did not name any political groups.



Following the bombings, Kirkuk leaders called for additional security forces to be deployed in Kirkuk, while Turkoman leaders are demanding that a United Nations peacekeeping force be brought in.



Usama Al-Najafi, an MP with the Iraqi National List, said in a press conference that the attacks could make Kirkuk vulnerable. He suggested that Iraqi forces, rather than Kurdish Peshmerga, be deployed to prevent further violence.



“Most of the forces in Kirkuk are Kurdish and cannot impose security considering their affiliation to [Kurdish] parties that created them,” he said.



Hazim Al-Shara is an IWPR-trained reporter.