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Kurds Set Out Their Demands

Kurdish parties’ controversial claim on Kirkuk likely to be source of tension in post-election coalition building.
By Talar Nadir

Kurdish politicians, keen to capitalise on their newly acquired political power, are outlining their demands in negotiations to establish a new government.


The Kurdish Alliance List, made up of the two main Kurdish parties, came second in the January 30 elections with almost 2.2 million votes, giving it 75 seats in the National Assembly.


Because a two-thirds majority is required to take key decisions in 275-member parliament - including forming a cabinet - the Kurdish coalition has been courted in recent days by the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance and by the Iraqi List led by interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia.


The United Iraqi Alliance, which is supported by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, will have 140 seats in the assembly, with 183 needed for a two-thirds majority, and the third-placed Iraqi List will get 40.


In meetings with various parties to hammer out who will hold various government posts and other issues, Kurdish politicians are making their demands known.


It seems likely that the Kurds will get their wish of holding the presidency and they have put forward Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, leader Jalal Talabani for the post.


But other Kurdish demands, such as moving the border of Iraqi Kurdistan further south to include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and maintaining their militia, the peshmerga, are more contentious. The Kurds also want to increase their share of national budget expenditure, which currently stands at 17 per cent.


“We will be receptive to the faction which is more responsive to our demands, and those demands should be included in the constitution,” said Mullah Bakhtiar, a member of the PUK political bureau.


The status of Kirkuk, which is also claimed by Arabs and Turkomans, is an extremely sensitive issue, largely because it is the home of Iraq’s northern oil fields. But the Kurds are unlikely to budge on their claim to the city. Adnan Mufti, a member of the PUK political bureau, said, “ The issue of Kirkuk had been a main issue in the negotiations with the Baath regime,” he said. “So now, in a democratic, federal country, how can we [drop] the issue of Kirkuk?”


Arabs and Turkomans are worried because the Kirkuk Brotherhood List, made up of the two main Kurdish parties, received 59.2 per cent of the vote for the local governorate elections, the top spot in the race. That means the Kurdish parties would get at least 24 of 41 seats on the governorate council of Taamim province, which includes Kirkuk.


“Kirkuk originally is not a Kurdish city,” said Mueen Ahmed Ali, a professor at the University of Baghdad’s College of Law. “If we give up Kirkuk, then the Kurds will be independent and have this oil wealth for themselves and deprive Iraq of it.”


It seems Kurdish desires for a federalist state may be shared by the United Iraqi Alliance, which would have more control over the oil fields in the Shia-dominated south under such a system.


Iraqi Kurdistan, which includes the provinces of Dahuk, Arbil and Sulimaniyah, has been a semi-autonomous region since the 1991 Kurdish uprising.


“Federalism should be prevalent in all the corners of Iraq,” said Mofaq Rubai, a candidate of the United Iraqi Alliance. “Look at the experience of Kurdistan, which is enjoying the benefits of federalism.”


But Kurdish wishes to maintain their autonomy is not agreeable to other Arabs, who fear that a federalist state would be a precursor to complete independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.


Sheikha Lamia Abdulsakr, a candidate on the Iraqi List, said her personal opinion was that it was too early to decentralise Iraq.


“I don’t encourage federalism in Iraq because we want a united Iraq from north to south, with one heart, one hand and one flag,” she said.


As for maintaining the Kuridish militia, Bakhtiar said the national government should be grateful because having the peshmerga maintain security in Kurdistan would free up Iraq’s national security forces to deal with other areas.


“We can defend our own area with our own forces so we lessen that burden on their shoulders,” he said.


Although Kurdish politicians will face pressure from other political groups to make concessions during negotiations, their supporters will urge them not to give way, as they see the elections as an historic opportunity to finally make their voices heard.


“This time the Kurds will go to Baghdad with great power and they will get most of their demands,” said Fareed Asasard, head of the Kurdistan Journalists’ Union. “Iraq can’t be run without the Kurds, so making a coalition with any faction should be on the basis of agreement, not concession.”


Talar Nadir and Zaineb Naji are IWPR trainee journalists in Sulaimaniyah.


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