Kirkuk Uneasy Despite Parliamentary Deal

Following political representation agreement, some residents fear unresolved issues will return to trouble them.

Kirkuk Uneasy Despite Parliamentary Deal

Following political representation agreement, some residents fear unresolved issues will return to trouble them.

Friday, 18 December, 2009
The recently-brokered compromise over Iraq’s election law may have paved the way for the country’s first national polls in four years, but it has failed to satisfy the concerns of some residents of the oil-rich Kirkuk region.

A last-minute deal on December 6 broke the political deadlock over the revised election law by defusing a conflict over parliamentary seats for Kirkuk’s ethnically-based political parties, which represent the region's Kurdish, Turkoman and Arab communities.

While Arabs wanted to use the food ration records of 2004 as a guide to population breakdown – figures which reflected the situation immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein - Kurds prefer the 2009 records, which showed a change in ethnic profile.

The impasse, which had threatened to derail Iraqi elections and potentially stall the United States withdrawal, stemmed from Arab and Turkoman claims that Kirkuk’s predominantly Kurdish government had relocated Kurdish families to the area in order to increase their share of the region's electorate.

The Kurds says the Kurdish families were merely returning to homes from which they were forced by the former Baathist regime during its Arabisation policy in the 1980s.

At one stage in the Kirkuk debate in Baghdad, there was even a proposal that Kirkuk be excluded from the national vote until the controversy was resolved.

However, after heavy lobbying from the US, a deal was struck increasing Kirkuk’s parliamentary seats from nine to 12, allowing for a more satisfactory representation of the region’s communities.

Also, the newly-agreed election law provided all factions throughout the country with a legal right to investigate any potential fraud allegations that might arise during the election.

At stake is the formation of a new government that will be charged with handling Kirkuk’s rival ethnic groups as well as establishing revenue-sharing deals for the area’s rich oilfields.

But critics say that the election deal has provided only a temporary solution for many underlying issues, not least the question of Kirkuk’s future status.

With the election law resolved for the moment, an outstanding issue remains the so-called Kirkuk referendum, a poll on whether Kirkuk and other Kurdish regions in Iraqi governorates should come under the jurisdiction of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution states that the Kirkuk referendum will determine the fate of Kirkuk province but that certain measures must be taken first: a reversal of the displacement caused by the Arabisation policy followed by a census. The referendum has been postponed indefinitely until this process has been completed.

The struggle for control of Kirkuk centres on the area’s lucrative energy resources. Government figures state that Kirkuk already produces 25 per cent of Iraq’s oil output. Since the US-led invasion of 2003, analysts have speculated that a scramble for the province’s oilfields might lead to ethnic tensions that could both destabilise Iraq and spread beyond its borders.

“Most of the debates in Baghdad’s parliament during the election law row were about Kirkuk, so it’s easy to see the [province’s] importance and political value,” said Khalid Suleiman, a Middle East analyst for London’s Al-Hayat newspaper. “Kirkuk is being watched closely by the international community and neighbouring countries in particular. If Kirkuk is torn apart, all of Iraq will be destroyed."

For the province’s Arab and Turkoman, the brokering of the election law has done little to address their concerns over the future of the region.

Hasan Turhan, a Turkoman member of Kirkuk’s provincial council, has little hope that the upcoming national poll will benefit Kirkuk. Because the vote is for representatives in Baghdad, he doesn’t believe there will be much of an improvement in the lives of Kirkuk residents.

Kirkuk’s last election was in 2005. Due to disagreement between its political parties on a power-sharing agreement, the region missed the provincial elections held in January.

Turhan believes the upcoming vote will be marred by the stipulation in the new election law that endorses investigations into allegations of voter irregularity.

“The Turkoman and Arabs have already asked to review the Kirkuk electoral register before the election, so what will happen after the election?” Turhan said.

Turhan claimed the outcome of the new election was a foregone conclusion due to what he said were 400,000 new Kurdish immigrants.

“The Kurds don’t believe in power sharing or the political process. They want to impose hegemony on Kirkuk and annex it to the Kurdistan region. This is unacceptable for the rest of the communities,” he said.

“The best solution is to make Kirkuk an independent federal region, this is what the Turkoman are calling for.”

The charge of demographic meddling was strongly denied by Kirkuk’s Kurdish governor Abdul Rahman Mustafa, who insisted that the province's political disputes would be resolved through Article 140 of the constitution.

But critics see the implementation of Article 140 as only benefitting the Kurds.

"We, the Arabs, don’t accept Article 140 as the only solution at all," said Khalil Muhammad, a Sunni Arab member of the Kirkuk provincial council. Muhammad also criticised the new election law for awarding Kirkuk only an additional three lawmakers.

He added that he was not satisfied with the new law, but that it was an acceptable compromise necessary to allow the national election to go forward.

“The people can now choose who will serve [Kirkuk], but only if the representatives are chosen through a free and clean election,” Muhammad said.

Others worry that the everyday concerns of locals in Kirkuk are being lost amid debates over oil revenue and political leadership.

"The central government and the international community should find a good solution that provides rights to all ethnic and minority groups," said Suhad Majid, a Turkoman who teaches in a secondary school in Kirkuk. "Another problem is that the voices of the citizens are not heard."

Samah Samad is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kirkuk.
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