Turkmens demonstrate in Kerkuk against article 140 and the annexation of Kerkuk to the Kurdish Region
Referendum delay in Kerkuk causes problems for the Kurdish leadership
TNA with Wire Services / Ankara
27 December 2007
Iraqi Kurdish leaders reluctantly are bowing to the fact that the referendum on the future of Kirkuk has to be delayed for six months but face the dilemma of how to sell this to their public.
One formula was for the Iraqi Kurdish parliament to approve the delay on condition that the referendum will be delayed six months and if nothing happens at the end of this period the region automatically becomes Kurdish territory.
The issue was being debated in Erbil Wednesday between U.S. Ambassador US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Kurdish regional leader Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq who is also a Kurd. The Kurdish parliament was scheduled to meet after the three end their meetings.
Kurds claimed if the referendum is not held in six months then the results of the 2005 elections should be regarded as a referendum. They say as the Kurds won an overwhelming majority in the polls this would automatically mean the province would become a part of the Kurdish region...
The Unit red Nations proposed a six-month extension to implement Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution in mid-December, despite warnings from Kurdish lawmakers that failure to implement the article would be considered a direct violation of their rights under the constitution.
Article 140 refers to the normalization of Kirkuk, a highly contested multiethnic governorate with a capital city of the same name that contains vast oil reserves. Under the Arabization campaign launched in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein displaced thousands of Kurds and Turkmens from Kirkuk and relocated Shiite Arab families to the area in an effort to change the demographic landscape of the historically Kurdish-majority governorate.
Since the overthrow of the regime, the Kurdistan regional government has pushed for the return of Kurds to Kirkuk and the incorporation of the governorate into the Kurdish region. The transitional administrative law, issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004, which served as the precursor to the Iraqi constitution, called for a normalization process to be carried out in Kirkuk, allowing Kurds and Turkmens displaced by Hussein to return to Kirkuk and repatriating Arabs back to their hometowns in the south, with compensation. Turkmen leaders say they do not want to be part of the Kurdish region.
Under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution ratified in late 2005, the Iraqi government must complete the normalization process, hold a census to determine the breakdown of the population according to ethnicity, and hold a referendum on the status of Kirkuk "a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007."
The new extension allows the Higher Committee for the Implementation of Article 140 and the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission much-needed time to prepare for a referendum in the governorate of Kirkuk that will determine whether the governorate will join the Kurdish autonomous region.
UN Special Representative to Iraq Steffan de Mistura appealed to the Iraqi parliament to accept the delay on December 17, saying the extension would not affect the content of Article 140. "Your reaction should be dictated by reason and not by passion. If not, everyone will suffer the consequences of it," de Mistura told parliamentarians.
Many senior Kurdish officials voiced public support for the extension, saying it was not a reason for concern. Regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told reporters in Al-Najaf on December 17 following a meeting with Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani that the extension was a "positive step." Barzani's comments followed a week-long visit to Baghdad that included meetings with senior Iraqi officials including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on a host of issues, including the issue of Kirkuk.
Iraq's two leading Kurdish parties have invested substantial time and money over the past two years to facilitate the demographic correction, building houses and paying Kurds to move to Kirkuk. The six-month delay will only aid that process thereby contributing to the Kurdish demographic majority, a point not lost on Kirkuk's ethnic Turkmen and Arab minorities.
Turkmens have not enjoyed the same incentives as Kurds to return to their homes.
But some Kurdish leaders contend that the government seeks to renege on the constitutional provision. Kemal Kirkuk, deputy speaker of the Kurdish regional parliament expressed frustration over the six-month extension telling the Kurdish newspaper "Jamaica" that Baghdad obstructed the implementation of Article 140. "My own personal belief is that any delay or extension would not aim at finding a right time for its implementation but to find more excuses and obstacles to prevent implementation forever," Kikukly said in the interview published on December 17. "An extension by six months, ten months, or 100 months will not change this reality," Kirkukly claimed.
Continuing, he argued: "We firmly believe that real obstacles were made to prevent the [Higher Committee for the Implementation of Article 140] from completing its work. It was possible to hold a Kirkuk referendum on time. From 2003 to 2005, it was possible to hold two elections and one referendum [on the constitution] in Iraq. Why was it not possible to hold a referendum [on Kirkuk] from 2003 to 2007, which was limited to only a few specific places in Iraq and not the
whole of Iraq," he asked.
Representatives of the sizable Turkmen and Shiite Arab population in the governorate have said their constituencies have no desire to join the Kurdish region. Many Turkmen and Arabs accused the Kurdish parties of threat and intimidation. The Governorate Council, which ceased to function two years ago, only began to resolve its issues in recent weeks, after the Arab members of the council agreed to end their boycott and return to work on December 4. Turkmen representatives are continuing their boycott.
Turkmen politician Hasan Turhan told the Kurdish website "Rozhnama" in an interview published December 5 that the Kurdish parties have worked to sideline and alienate Turkmens in Kirkuk and other areas of Iraq. Turhan, who is a member of the Turkmen Justice Party and the Iraqi Turkmen Front, holds one of the Turkmens boycotted governorate council seats. He opposes joining the Kurdish autonomous region and says he and his supporters prefer Kirkuk be turned into an independent region jointly administered by Kurdish and Turkmen leaders.
He contended that many Kurds in Kirkuk also support the establishment of an independent region for the governorate.
Turkoman Front leader Ahmet Muratli, the front's representative to Turkey says the delay will only seek to benefit the Kurds. "Kurdish groups have driven Kirkuk into a deadlock with the mistakes they made," he said referring to the political tensions plaguing the city. Muratli contended that the Kurds altered the demographic landscape by bringing 650,000 Kurds to Kirkuk from the Kurdish region and from neighboring countries.
If Kurdish officials felt snubbed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Kirkuk this week, they tried not to show it. Kurdish media outlets ran reports indicating regional president Mas'ud Barzani refused to meet with Rice because the U.S. had allegedly given Turkey the green light to launch airstrikes on Turkish-Kurdish separatists in the mountains of northern Iraq, which Barzani said led to the death of civilians.
Rice met with local officials during her brief trip to the capital city, but did not hold separate meeting with the KRG, leading some observers to speculate she was sending a message to the Kurds over their designs for Kirkuk. Rice reportedly told local leaders in a closed meeting that the United States supports the UN proposal for a six-month extension and called on local leaders to find a political solution to Kirkuk, Governorate Council member Ahmad al-Askari told the website PUK media. "It is an important province for the future of Iraq, for a democratic Iraq, an Iraq that can be for all people," AP quoted Rice as saying ahead of the meeting.
In a press conference alongside de Mistura on December 18, Rice told reporters that the UN is well-placed "to provide the kind of technical expertise and technical efforts that are needed to help [the people of Kirkuk] move forward." Rice said she was pleased with the UN decision "to help the people [of Kirkuk] to resolve some of the differences that they have there, to look at the questions of the – a way forward so that all Iraqis in the Kirkuk province can feel that they have a future in the new Iraq."
While UN, U.S. and Iraqi leaders have contended the delay in implementing Article 140 is solely due to technical reasons, there is no question that many fear ethnic tensions in Kirkuk could erupt into extreme violence over implementation of the article. Shiite and Sunni Arabs across the country fear the KRG could one day seize Kirkuk's vast oil reserves – which under the constitution are the property of the central government – and declare independence from the rest of Iraq. Ongoing disputes between the KRG and Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani over Kurdish rights to drill inside the Kurdish region only compound that fear.
Turkey, which supports Kirkuk's ethnic Turkmen population, also fears Kurds would use Kirkuk's wealth to declare independence from Iraq. Moreover, Turks fear, the establishment of a Kurdish state, would likely trigger political instability in Turkey's Kurdish-populated south, which has long-rallied for autonomy from Ankara.