In 1972 Iraq nationalized its oil industry giving the state new, unrestrained power over the local population. Government power became state suppression.
Ba’athists claimed they would “assimilate Kurds into a crucible of the Arab nation and if necessary, by force.” And force they did use.
It was the beginning of the scorched-earth policy in Kurdistan. Kurdish villages were razed and families were forcibly relocated to other parts of the country—most notably the southern desert areas. At the same time thousands of Arab families from the south were moved to Kirkuk. The Arabization of the Kirkuk region was under way.
With Arabization came the ethnicization of oil-rich Kurdish territories, particularly Kirkuk, changing the face of Kurdish identity. The petroleum debate centered the perception of Kurdishness (Kurdayetî) on the ethnic origins of Kirkuk.
The 2005 Iraqi constitution states that the executive authority shall undertake the necessary steps to complete the implementation of the requirements of all subparagraphs of Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL).
Article 58 of the TAL, without going into all the details, provides for the return of and compensation for forced migrants and for the resolution of
disputed territories including Kirkuk through arbitration. Basically it tries to remedy the injustices of the coercive Arabization policies of Saddam Hussein’s regime, which also included the redrawing of administrative borders to include more Arab towns in the region.
There is a referendum afoot that will decide if the Kurdish portions of four provinces (Ninevah, Ta’mim [Kirkuk], Salahuddin, and Diyala) will become part of the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Kirkuk Referendum is a part of this larger referendum procedure. See map of Iraq provinces. There are three provinces now in the KRG: Dohuk, Erbil, and Suleimaniyeh.
Before the referendum is carried out however there must be a reversal of the Arabization policies. A last-minute provision to the 2005 constitution, Article 140 provides for that. It states that, Article 58 of the TAL shall extend and continue to the executive authority elected in accordance with this constitution, provided that it accomplishes completely (normalization, census, and referendums in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to determine the will of their citizens) by a date not to exceed December 31, 2007.
Swedish diplomat and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Staffan de Mistura, proposed extending this deadline by six months. The Kurdish regional parliament agreed to his proposal. Now almost a year later it still has not been implemented.
Some say that with the original deadline past that there is no longer a constitutional obligation for Iraq to hold a referendum on Kirkuk or any other disputed territory. Kurds vehemently disagree.
The KRG is now lashing out at de Mistura for his delaying tactics accusing him of favoring the old Arabization policies. De Mistura had promised to issue a package of recommendations in September or October (of 2008) to cover eight areas in dispute.
Said de Mistura, “I don’t want to enter into polemics with the Kurdish leaders but I decided to postpone until next year the announcement of my proposal to avoid creating tensions before the provincial elections.” The elections are slated for 31 January 2009.
It will certainly add to the tensions between Kurds and Arabs in Iraq. If the Iraqi Constitutional Court rules in favor of implementing Article 140, regardless of timeframe, then the UN will continue its work in implementing normalization efforts. If the court rules against the implementation of Article 140, differences between the KRG and Baghdad will take a turn for the worse.
-Janabi, Nazar. Kirkuk’s Article 140: Expired or Not? The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch #1335, 30 Jan 2008, www.washingtoninstitute.org
–Kurds Upset over U.N. Article 140 Report. Middle East Times, 12 Jun 2008. www.metimes.com.
–Kurds Push for Article 140 Passage. UPI.com, 09 Oct 2008
–Article 140 and the Future of Iraq. 09 May 2008. Washington Kurdish Institute, www.kurd.org
–Iraqi Kurds Accuse UN of Delaying Report on Disputed Areas. Easy Bourse, 30 Nov 2008. www.easybourse.com
-Natali, Denise. The Kurds and the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.