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Kurds Protest Constitution

Demonstrations in the north of the country underscore Kurdish constitutional demands.
By Sirwan Ghareeb

Thousands of people have taken part in protests across Iraqi Kurdistan, calling for the rejection of a constitution which they say fails to represent Kurdish interests.


The demonstrations took place on August 14, a day before the panel drafting the document secured a week-long extension to try and reach agreement on contentious key issues.


They were organised by the Referendum Movement, which campaigns for independence for Kurdish northern Iraq. The region, which encompasses the three provinces of Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniyah, has been semi-autonomous since Saddam Hussein lost control of it in the 1991 Gulf War.


Kurds make up some 20 per cent of Iraq’s total population, and the two main Kurdish political parties came second place in national elections in January.


Among the Kurdish demands for the constitution is that it should see the country structured along federal lines. Sunni Arabs reject the idea of federalism, fearing that it would split Iraq.


Kurdish politicians also insist on the survival of the Kurdish militia, or peshmerga, and on Kurdish control of Kirkuk, an oil-rich city also claimed by Iraq’s Arab and Turkoman populations.


Kurds are also pushing for a limited role for Islam in governance, while some religious Shia want Islam to be considered “the main source of legislation”.


In Sulaimaniyah, the capital of the portion of Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, demonstrators chanted, “No for a constitution that doesn’t include Kurdish self-determination.”


Gulala Aziz, who lost a son as a result of Saddam’s oppressive policies toward the Kurds, was so enthusiastic about the protest that her voice was hoarse from chanting slogans. She said her sons and other Kurds have shed their blood to fight against Saddam and they do not want to be ruled over again. “We won’t allow the Baathists to control us,” she said.


During the January national elections, the Referendum Movement set up makeshift tents outside polling stations in Kurdistan and asked residents to take part in an unofficial vote on the question of Kurdish independence.


Ninety-eight per cent of those who took part in the informal referendum voted for independence. The results were sent to the United Nations.


Fattah Shwani, standing in the shade of banners with the Kurdish flag, said Kurds have been wronged since Operation Iraqi Freedom and the constitution was perpetuating this.


Kurds will have their say formally when the constitution is put to a referendum in October. If two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq’s 18 governorates vote against it, the document will be rejected.


Osman Faizullah, who came to Sulaimaniyah from Koya, 100 kilometres away, accused Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of not keeping his end of the bargain he made when his party, the United Iraqi Alliance, formed a coalition with the Kurdish Alliance list.


“We don’t agree with Jaafari’s chauvinistic deeds,” he said. “He signed up for federalism and now he renounces it.”


Halkawt Abdullah said if the constitution didn’t include rights for Kurds, they would use peaceful means to bring about change.


“I hope they won’t oblige our people to resort to non-peaceful means to ask for their legitimate rights,” he warned.


Sirwan Ghareeb is an IWPR trainee in Sulaimaniyah.


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