Kirkuk Deal on Saturday?


Cartoon by Qassem H.J. who is a newspaper cartoonist working in Iraq. The cartoon above appeared in the NYTimes on 19 August 2008.

The absolute deadline they said was yesterday. But the vote on Kirkuk has been postponed again…now until Saturday. Statements via Twitter and blog postings suggest an ‘acceptable’ resolution might pass this weekend. Four competing proposals have been ‘boiled down to a single text,’ said Kurdish deputy Khaled Chwani.

Another Kurdish MP, Mahmud Othman, said ‘up until now nothing has been agreed, but Saturday afternoon we hope to reach a deal and include it on the agenda.’ Othman posted yesterday on his Twitter page that ‘a solution for Kirkuk seems in sight. We are putting the final touches on a deal fair for all & hopefully pass the law on Saturday.’

AlSumaria reported that Kurdistan Alliance MP Abdul Bari Zebari told Al Hayat Newspaper that his party has accepted the legal committee’s proposal over the elections law which gives Kirkuk a special status.

According to AKnews, Tania Tal’at, another MP on the Kurdistan Alliance List, says that parliamentary blocs have reached a preliminary agreement to hold elections adopting the 2009 voter registry.’ She also suggested that they ‘will soon reach an agreement.’

Muhammed Tamim, a legislator from Kirkuk with the Arab Front for National Dialogue, said the current proposal has received support from Arabs and Turkomen, but no response yet has been given from the Kurdistan Alliance List.

However, the head of the Iraqi electoral commission, Faraj al-Haidari, announced yesterday that it is now too late to organise a general election as planned on 16 January after repeated delays by MPs in adopting an electoral law.

The final word on the timing of the election rests with parliament, which meets again this weekend. MPs may vote to push the date back towards the constitutional deadline of 31 January 2010.

MPs have long been deadlocked over the status of Kirkuk. At issue is ethnic representation and control of the city. While Kurds favour using current voter registration lists and keeping Kirkuk as one constituency, Arabs and Turkomen want 2004 or 2005 records to be used, or for Kirkuk to be split into two constituencies.

In the 1957 census it was estimated that Kurds made up 48.3% of the population in Kirkuk, Arabs 28.2%, and Turkomen 21.4%. The rest were Assyrian-Chaldean Christians and other smaller minority groups. Last spring the percentages were estimated at Kurdish 52%, Arab 35%, and Turkomen only 12%.

As a compromise measure the tentative agreement will assign one extra seat to the Arabs and Turkomen and the most recent voter registration records will be used. The proposal that was hammered out also suggests making the results of the election provisional, subject to an examination of the voter rolls to ensure accuracy.

If population counts from 2004 or 2005 were to be used, as Arab and Turkomen had wanted, percentages would favour these groups.

Recently elected Kurdish Prime Minister, Barham Salih, said back in 2004 of Kirkuk ‘We [Kurds] have a claim to Kirkuk rooted in history, geography and demographics.’

Kirkuk as summer capital?

The Arab press (al-Dustour, Asrar al-Sharq, etc.) are reporting today that calls are being made to make Kirkuk the “summer” capital of Iraq. Fawzi Akram Terzi, a Turkoman parliament deputy in Baghdad associated with the Sadrist bloc, made the call saying that Kirkuk has “great economic, political and strategic implications” for Iraq’s future.

Fawzi Akram Terzi

Fawzi Akram Terzi

Two months ago Terzi told Radio Free Europe “a Kurdish-Arab civil war is out of the question in the new Iraq where disagreements are settled by dialogue and according to the constitution.”

So is his plan to make Kirkuk a second capital city dialogue or part of the constitution? Or is it merely another ploy to prevent the Kurds from reclaiming what was taken from them by Saddam’s brutal policies of Arabisation?

Terzi rationalises this idea by suggesting that summer capitals are “in place in many countries the world.” He also said that the government should begin massive economic revitalisation programmes in the city as it is far removed from all forms of partisan conflict found in Baghdad.

Yes, perhaps the Turkomen have a claim to a power-sharing arrangement in Kirkuk, with 12% of the city’s population (Kurds make up 52%). However, I do not think that making Kirkuk the “summer” capital will do anything to remedy the tense ethnic relations in the city.

With al-Maliki centralising power and leaning towards a more authoritarian style of leadership, Terzi’s idea would only be seen by the Kurds as a Baghdad-takeover of Kirkuk.

UN suggests power-sharing for Kirkuk

UN suggests power-sharing for Kirkuk
by Lara Jakes, AP

KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) – Seeking to head off an explosion of ethnic violence, the United Nations will call for a power-sharing system of government for Iraq’s deeply divided region of Kirkuk in the oil-rich north.

A draft U.N. plan, outlined to The Associated Press by two Western officials, aims to defuse dangerous tensions. Kurds, a majority in the region, have been trying to wrest control from Arabs, Turkomen and other rival ethnic groups. If open warfare

Market in central Kiruk (AP photo/Yahya Ahmed)

Market in central Kirkuk (AP photo/Yahya Ahmed)

breaks out, it could jeopardize the U.S. goal of stability across Iraq before elections at year’s end.

Peaceful elections are critical to reducing the U.S. presence in Iraq, promised by President Barack Obama.

The U.N. has played only a minor role in Iraq since 2003, when its Baghdad headquarters was destroyed by a truck bomb. Now, officials in Kirkuk say the U.N. efforts may be the last chance for a peaceful outcome.

Without a resolution, “I think Kirkuk will be like a TNT barrel and explode and burn everybody,” Iraqi parliament lawmaker Mohammed Mahdi Amin al-Bayati, a Turkoman, said in an interview this week.

Deputy Gov. Rakan Saeed al-Jubouri, a Sunni Arab, agreed.

“Violence is very easy to start in Iraq,” he said in a separate interview.

Slightly larger than Connecticut and dubbed by Saddam Hussein as Tamin province, Kirkuk is a land dotted with flaming smoke stacks on its oil fields and bustling markets. Its future hinges on whether its 1.3 million people will be run by Baghdad or by Irbil, the capital of the politically autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.

Kurds make up an estimated 52 percent of Kirkuk’s population. Arabs represent 35 percent. Turkomen, ethnic Turks with close ties to Turkey, make up about 12 percent. About 12,000 Christians live in Kirkuk.

Kurds want the province to be wrapped into Kurdistan. Arabs and Turkomen vehemently oppose this.

“You cannot give up the opinion of the majority and give a small group of people what they want just because they ask for it,” said Sarteep Mohammad Hussein Kakai, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament.

Deep suspicions among ethnic groups in Kirkuk are partially rooted in its past under Saddam Hussein. Tens of thousands of Kurds were killed, and more than 1,100 of their villages razed, under his Arabization program.

Last December, a suicide bomber killed at least 55 people in a packed restaurant near Kirkuk where Kurdish and Arab leaders were trying to reconcile differences.

The long-awaited U.N. report on Kirkuk will outline options for compromise, but “we are not pushing them into any particular direction,” said spokeswoman Randa Jamal.

A draft of the U.N. plan, according to two Western officials who have read it, offers five options. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been finalized and they are not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Three of the options in the draft likely will be dismissed immediately as too extreme or unworkable, the officials said. The remaining two are:

_Making Kirkuk a “special status” province where both Iraq’s Shiite-led central government and the Kurdish government in Irbil could have power. Final decisions would be left to provincial officials. The special status would likely last between three and 10 years, giving officials more time to figure out Kirkuk’s final status.

None of Iraq’s 17 other provinces, including the three that make up Kurdistan, currently has such an agreement.

_Making Kirkuk politically autonomous but still somewhat reliant on Baghdad for funding. This plan, favored by the Turkomen with political ties to Turkey, also would allow Kirkuk to collect revenue from federally owned North Oil Corp. refineries in the province.

Details of the formulas are still being negotiated. Remaining sticking points include how jobs will be divided among each group, and when, and who can be counted as a legal resident among the 400,000 Kurds who moved to Kirkuk after Saddam’s ouster. Arabs and Turkomen call them illegal squatters.

“Ultimately, they need to come together to resolve this issue, because it’s not going to get any prettier with time,” said Howard Keegan, the State Department’s top envoy in Kirkuk.

Smoking Marlboros at his desk at the government building in downtown Kirkuk, Province Council chairman Rizgar Ali said he could accept a special status for Kirkuk – but still tied to Kurdistan. He accused Arabs and Turkomen of stalling on an agreement.

“You can’t go on like this,” Ali said. “This kind of thing killed Iraq.”

Saeed, the top-ranking Arab in Kirkuk, signaled he could support making Kirkuk autonomous. Anything connecting Kirkuk to Kurdistan would be rejected, however.

“We will resist that by all means, because this will erase our identity,” Saeed said.

Ultimately, the dispute may be solved only if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani personally agree to compromise.

The U.S. has encouraged power-sharing in a country where Shiites dominate in the south, Sunnis in the west and Kurds in the far north. Bitter sectarian fighting and ethnic cleansing have deepened mistrust.

In recent weeks Barzani has alleged that al-Maliki is drifting toward authoritarian rule. Al-Maliki says Iraq’s central government is too weak, and that granting provinces too much power risks de-facto partition that would invite foreign meddling.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military leader in Iraq, said in a recent AP interview that “ultimately they have to solve this problem in Baghdad.” And in a January visit to Kirkuk, Vice President Joe Biden told local leaders they had a year to show significant success in settling the dispute – or potentially face it alone.

“The Americans should understand we cannot guarantee there will not be a civil war when they leave,” said Turkoman councilman Hassan Toran.

And Kirkuk?

Last weekend’s elections in Iraq were “hailed by both Iraqis and the international community as a success and a sign of the country’s growing stability” (McLain).  But will that stability reach (and sustain itself) in the three provinces that bridge the Kurdish-Arab ethnic lines?  These provinces are Nineveh, Ta’mim (formerly Kirkuk province), and Diyala.  Kirkuk did not participate in the recent elections.


Striped areas show provinces of mixed Kurdish/Arab/other ethnicities. source: NYTimes

The tensions along the Kurdish-Arab line mirror a much larger, and potentially more destabilizing division.  That of the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

At the forefront of the debate is Kiruk and oil.   There is no clear consensus on who controls the KRG’s natural resources.  The constitution is incredibly vague on this issue and it has led to ever-hardening battles over the oil reserves.  The province of Kirkuk (Ta’mim) sits on 13% of Iraq’s oil.

But oil is not the only friction there.  Kurds (and other groups) were ethnically cleansed from the province under Saddam’s Arabisation policies.  Arabs from the south were relocated to the area.  Subsequently, Kirkuk has become a de facto symbol of oppression against the Kurds.  It is a city that has strong emotional attachment to Kurdish identity in the region and Kurds will continue the fight to incorporate it into the KRG.

However, Prime Minister al-Maliki  and his centralisation policies have been strengthened by the elections and he may take that as a mandate to reign in local governments.  At the same time, the Kurds see wins in Kurdish districts (smaller units of the provinces) as proof of voters’ desire to become part of the KRG.

But the complications are not just domestic.  Turkey has warned that it would not tolerate a Kirkuk governed by the KRG.  It views a Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk as a threat to its national security.

The KRG has scheduled provincial elections for 19 May.  No date has yet been set for Kirkuk.


What Iraq’s elections will mean for the crucial oil sector, The Daily Star, 06 February 2009,

Carpenter, S. Surprises from Iraq’s Provincial Elections, Policy Watch #1472, The Washington Institute, 06 February 2009,

McLain, S.  You have to solve Kirkuk, The National, 07 February 2009,

Article 140

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,
Kurds Upset over U.N. Article 140 Report. Middle East Times, 12 Jun 2008.
Kurds Push for Article 140 Passage., 09 Oct 2008
Article 140 and the Future of Iraq. 09 May 2008. Washington Kurdish Institute,
Iraqi Kurds Accuse UN of Delaying Report on Disputed Areas. Easy Bourse, 30 Nov 2008.
-Natali, Denise. The Kurds and the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

Kurdistan Is a Model for Iraq

From the Wall Street Journal

12 November 2008

Kurdistan is a Model for Iraq
Our path to a secular, federal democracy is inspired by the U.S.

by Masoud Barzani

Iraq’s Kurds have consistently been America’s closest allies in Iraq. Our Peshmerga forces fought alongside the U.S. military to liberate the country, suffering more casualties than any other U.S. ally.

And while some Iraqi politicians have challenged the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have endorsed the pact as essential for U.S. combat troops to continue fighting terrorists in Iraq.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is committed to a federal, democratic Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors.

We have benefited enormously from the service and sacrifices of America’s armed forces and their families, and we are deeply grateful. We are also proud to have shared in such sacrifices; my brother was among those severely wounded during the liberation of Iraq.

Last year, following a U.S. request, we deployed Kurdish troops to Baghdad. These troops played a decisive role in the success of the surge. Last month I once again visited Baghdad to meet with the leadership of the federal government. We stressed our commitment to developing an Iraqi state that abides by its constitution and that is based upon a federal model with clearly delineated powers for its regions.

In spite of all this, some commentators now suggest that the Kurds are causing problems by insisting on territorial demands and proceeding with the development of Kurdistan’s oil resources. These allegations are troubling. We are proceeding entirely in accord with the Iraqi constitution, implementing provisions that were brokered by the U.S.

In the constitutional negotiations that took place in the summer of 2005, two issues were critical to us: first, that the Kurdistan Region has the right to develop the oil on its territory, and second, that there be a fair process to determine the administrative borders of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region — thus resolving once and for all the issue of “disputed” territories.

Unfortunately, ever since the discovery of oil in Iraq in the 1920s, successive Iraqi governments have sought to keep oil out of Kurdish hands, blocking exploration and development of fields in Kurdistan. Saddam Hussein’s government went even further, using Iraqi oil revenues to finance the military campaigns that destroyed more than 4,500 Kurdish villages and to pay for the poison gas used to kill thousands of Kurdish civilians.

The Kurdish leadership agreed to a U.S.-sponsored compromise in 2005 in which the central government would have the authority to manage existing oil fields, but new fields would fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the regions. Since then, the KRG has taken the lead with Baghdad in negotiations on a hydrocarbon law that is faithful to Iraq’s constitution and is conducive to modernizing Iraq’s oil infrastructure and substantially increasing its oil production.

We have awarded contracts for foreign oil companies (including some American ones) to explore our territory. In so doing, Kurdistan is not threatening the unity of Iraq. It is simply implementing the constitution.

The “disputed territories” have a tragic history. Since the 1950s, Iraqi regimes encouraged Arabs to settle in Kirkuk and other predominantly Kurdish and Turkmen areas. Saddam Hussein accelerated this process by engaging in ethnic cleansing, expelling or killing Kurds and Turkmen, or by requiring nationality corrections (in which non-Arabs are forced to declare themselves to be Arabs) and by moving Arabs into Kurdish homes.

The dispute between Baghdad and the Kurds over Kirkuk has lasted more than 80 years and has often been violent. All sides have now agreed to a formula to resolve the problem, to bring justice to Kirkuk, and to correct the crimes against Kurds committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Iraq’s constitution requires that a referendum be held in disputed territories to determine if their populations want to join the Kurdistan Region. Conducting a plebiscite is not easy, but it is preferable to another 80 years of conflict.

If the pro-Kurdistan side should lose the referendum in Kirkuk, I promise that Kurdistan will respect that result. And if they win, I promise that we will do everything in our power to ensure outsized representation of Kirkuk’s Turkmen, Arabs and Christians both on the local level and in the parliament and government of the Kurdistan Region.

Regional stability cannot come from resolving internal disputes alone. That is why expanding and deepening our ties with Turkey is my top priority.

My meeting last month in Baghdad with the Turkish special envoy to Iraq was a historic and positive development. There should be further direct contacts between the KRG and Turkey, as well as multilateral contacts that involve the U.S. We are eager to work with Turkey to seek increased peace and prosperity in the region.

I am proud that the Kurdistan Region is both a model and gateway for the rest of Iraq. Our difficult path to a secular, federal democracy is very much inspired by the U.S. And so we look forward to working with the Obama-Biden administration to support and defend our hard-fought successes in Iraq, and to remain proud of what the Kurdistan region is today: a thriving civil society in the heart of the Middle East. When we insist on strict compliance with our country’s constitution, we are only following America’s great example.

Mr. Barzani is the president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.