vendredi 23 novembre 2007

Kerkuk tops the agenda in Iraq writes Nermeen al-Mufti

Nation at stake

Kirkuk tops the agenda in Iraq as political forces vie for and against de facto national partition, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti

Last month was the least violent in Iraq in two years. In Baghdad, 10 streets that had been closed by concrete barricades for months at last opened to traffic. One is Abu Nawwas, a riverside street that used to be lined with trees, restaurants, cafés and parks. Now the trees are gone, having been cut down for security reasons. So finally a ray of hope for Baghdad, but caution is in order. A US official recently warned in a television interview that Al-Qaeda could unleash another wave of terror in the Iraqi capital.

The hunt for militia members continues in various parts of southern Iraq. Operation Lion, now in full swing in Al-Diwaniya, 180 kilometres south of Baghdad, aims to arrest militiamen and gain control over the surrounding region. Its target is mostly the Mahdi Army. The Sadr Group, meanwhile, accused the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) of involvement in the hunt of its members in Al-Diwaniya. In a related development, the Sunni Endowments group, led by Ahmed Al-Samaraai, decided to close down the offices and radio facilities of the Association of Muslim Scholars. The decision came after the expulsion of Al-Qaeda members from Al-Azamiya. The Samaraa Revival Council, accused by some senior Sunni officials of being a pawn for the occupation authorities, is also said to be hunting down Al-Qaeda members in Samaraa.

Kirkuk is once again a matter of heated public debate. Turhan Ketene, political adviser of the Turkomen National Movement, told Al-Ahram Weekly that, "the formation of the so-called region of Kurdistan was done without holding a referendum. No Iraqi official asked himself why Mosul, which is within parallel 36, and should have been part of the safe haven area, was excluded from that area while northern Kurdish areas that were outside that parallel were included in the safe haven area. The aim, obviously, was to form a Kurdish region and divide the country. The Kurds always wanted Kirkuk. Barzani's father once said that Kirkuk must be included in Kurdish areas, even if it only had one Kurd living in it."

Last week's parliamentary session featured a fierce debate over Kirkuk. Osama Al-Nojeifi, deputy for the Iraqi List of Iyad Allawi, said that the committee the government formed to normalise the situation in Kirkuk was actually trying to change the identity of the city. The committee, he said, ignored evidence that hundreds of thousands of Kurds, people who were not originally from Kirkuk, were moved into the city.

Aydin Aksu, leader of the Baghdad branch of the Iraqi Turkomen Front, told the Weekly that "Article 140 of the [Iraqi] constitution is unconstitutional, simply because it includes a date. Constitutions are not supposed to have dates. Constitutions are supposed to act as social contracts. So what happens once this article is implemented? Are we supposed to strike it out from the constitution?"

Mohamed Al-Deini, deputy for the National Dialogue Front of Saleh Al-Mostalek, told the Weekly that his group wants Kirkuk to be run by a strong central government. "The issue of Kirkuk is very major. We cannot allow one political group to integrate Kirkuk in its region." Al-Deini said that 600,000 Kurds have been moved into Kirkuk since 2003.

Addressing the Iraqi parliament, Abbas Al-Bayati from the Iraqi Alliance Bloc said, "as Turkomen, we know that Kirkuk belongs mainly to the Turkomen. But we need to take into account the various circumstances surrounding the city." Al-Bayati suggested that Kirkuk be declared an independent region, run jointly by Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen.

Adnan Al-Duleimi, leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, agrees. He proposed that Kirkuk become an independent region run jointly by resident communities. "Kirkuk is an Iraqi problem, and the implementation of Article 140 would be inappropriate," he said.

Hadi Al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organisation, formerly the military wing of SCIRI, told AFP "unless there is a political agreement on Kirkuk, this city will turn into a powder keg. The Kurds have only two options. One is military action, which would open the door to endless domestic problems. The other is to be patient and hold a UN- sponsored referendum."

Steven de Mistora, envoy of the secretary-general of the UN to Iraq, said that the UN is encouraging dialogue among Iraqis, and with Iraq's neighbouring countries, on the fate of Kirkuk. His remarks are reminder of the regional aspect of Kirkuk's problem. Meanwhile, Kurdish officials maintain that their only aim is to comply with the constitution.

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