Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Politicians Press for Kirkuk Solution

As well as the rights of Kurds returning to the “Arabised” city, the issue of Kirkuk’s future looms large for Iraqi politician.
By Yaseen al-Rubaie

Kurdish lawmakers in Iraq’s National Assembly and in the Kurdistan regional parliament are stepping up pressure to restore the rights of people forced to leave the northern Kirkuk area under Saddam Hussein’s programme of “Arabisation”.


Tens of thousands of Kurds and people from other non-Arab communities were driven out of the city and the surrounding region, while in their place – and often in their homes – Saddam resettled Arabs from southern Iraq.


The Kurds started coming back after Saddam was ousted, and some tensions ensued as people tried to regain their property and as the demographic swing affected the political balance.


A Kurdish-led bloc won a decisive victory in the provincial elections held simultaneously with the January parliamentary ballot, and Kirkuk’s Arab and Turkoman communities felt disadvantaged by a ruling by the Iraqi electoral commission that allowed more than 70,000 displaced Kurds to vote.


The provincial council has suffered months of delays as Arab and Turkoman members threaten to quit in protest at what they see as an unfair imbalance.


The 2004 Transitional Administrative Law, TAL – effectively an interim constitution for Iraq - seeks to restore the Kurds’ rights while safeguarding those of the Arabs, many of whom were forced to relocate to Kirkuk. Article 58 of the TAL requires homes and property to be restored to those driven out of the area, or if this proves impossible, to provide fair compensation. The people who took their place are to be offered compensation or assisted with resettling in the provinces from which they originally came.


As Iraqi parliamentarians draft the new constitution that will render the TAL defunct, Kurdish politicians are pressing for Article 58 to be implemented in full before it is too late.


Sami Shabak, a member of the Kurdish Alliance, the bloc which came second in the parliamentary election, recalled that his group had a pact with the winning Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance, UIA, to implement the terms of the TAL’s Article 58 – and he called for this to happen sooner rather than later.


“We insist on the need to implement it at this stage,” he said.


For the UIA, member of parliament Ali al-Dabagh said his bloc remained committed to Article 58 and denied reports that it was seeking a delay, “There are no differences as reported in the media; we agree that displaced people from Kirkuk who suffered from racial oppression should be given their rights.”


The rights of displaced people is tied to the big issue of who Kirkuk should belong to. The city is claimed by Kurds – who would like to see administrative boundary changes to incorporate it into the Kurdistan region – but also by the Arabs and Turkoman who live there.


Article 58 deals with this issue, too, saying a “permanent resolution of disputed territories including Kirkuk shall be deferred until after these measures [restoration of rights] are completed, a fair and transparent census has been conducted and the permanent constitution has been ratified”. The law adds that the solution will be made “taking into account the will of the people of those territories”, implying some kind of local referendum.


At a press conference last week, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani - who is a Kurd - reaffirmed that the Kirkuk issue will not be resolved until after the constitution has been drafted.


But Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, and other Kurdish politicians have been calling for Kirkuk’s status to be resolved beforehand and then made explicit in the constitution – which has to be finalised by August 15.


Earlier this month, the regional parliament in Kurdistan, which covers three governorates but not Kirkuk, said the terms of Article 58 must be implemented before the deadline for finishing work on the constitution. And it declared that Kurdish politicians sitting in the Iraqi national parliament should not approve a constitution that touches on matters relating to Kurdistan without seeking the assent of the Kurdistan assembly.


“Solving the Kirkuk problem is in the interest of every Iraqi,” said Gulnaz Aziz Qadir, who sits on the Kurdish assembly’s human rights committee. “The people who are now in Kirkuk as a result of Arabisation were brought there as a result of the bad policies of Baathism and Saddam.”


Kurdistan lawmakers also said Article 58 should be implemented before the constitution is finished, as Kirkuk is a crucial issue for Kurds.


Adil Muhammed, a member of the Kurdish parliament, went further, saying that Article 58 did not go far enough in addressing the Kurds’ grievances, and “that’s why the issue needs to be addressed in the constitution. It is a confused and unclear article because there is no deadline for its implementation. Kurdistan’s boundaries should be defined in the constitution and Kirkuk should be re-incorporated into it”.


Members of the National Assembly countered that while they were addressing the issue, it could not be resolved in the month that is left before the deadline.


Among the topics still under discussion are compensation for the thousands of Kurds and others displaced by the Arabisation policy.


Hamid Majid Musa, the secretary general of the Iraqi Communist Party and head of the parliament committee charged with implementing Article 58, said the group is meeting on a weekly basis to establish a formula for compensating displaced people and resolving other issues.


“But so far, the required amount for this process has not been decided,” he said.


Abbas al-Bayati, who heads the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkoman, and is also a member of the Iraqi parliament, says it will be easier to resolve the human rights issues than the matter of Kirkuk’s status.


“The humanitarian aspects of Article 58 say that displaced Kurds and Turkoman can go back to their lands, and there is no one who’s against this,” he said.


But al-Bayati insisted that the constitution will not contain an explicit definition of how Kirkuk itself is to be governed. “The constitution will not address the Kirkuk issue directly because it is not a constitutional issue, and it will be dealt with in a special way,” he said.


The section of TAL’s Article 58 that talks about “resolution of disputed territories” – meaning the possible adjustment of current administrative boundaries inherited from Saddam’s regime – is contentious and will need extensive discussion, said al-Bayati. He suggested Kirkuk may end up being given some special administrative status of its own that is acceptable to all sides.


Yaseen al-Rubaie and Talar Nadir are IWPR trainees in Iraq.