The people of Kirkuk won’t be voting in the Iraqi elections because of ongoing issues about whom the area belongs to. Frustrated, some are saying Kirkuk should forget Iraq and become an autonomous region.
It was almost twenty years ago that Omar Nour ad-Din was forced to leave his home in Kirkuk by members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. The former Iraqi leader was trying to change the composition of the city by forcing Kurdish locals out and bringing Arabs in. And ad-Din, accused of being linked to Kurdish nationalists, was forced to leave everything behind. Although he has since returned to Kirkuk, an Arab family moved into his house and he has never been able to return.
Ad-Din is just one of thousands who have been waiting for some kind of resolution to this long-standing issue. In 2003, that resolution seemed to be coming closer, with the creation of Article 140 of the new Iraqi constitution, post-Saddam Hussein. The Article was supposed to remedy the expulsions, ethnic cleansing and Arabisation that Hussein’s regime had undertaken, through three main steps.
Article 140 in THREE STEPS. 1. Normalization: a return of Kurds and other residents displaced by Arabisation. 2. A census taken to determine the demographic makeup of the province's population. 3. A referendum to determine the status of disputed territories. Obviously whether a territory is home to mainly Kurds or mainly Arabs will have an effect on who can lay claim to the area.
And the deadline for the implementation of Article 140 was the end of 2007. However up until now nothing has happened and it’s been five years since that deadline expired. Kirkuk remains in limbo and because of this, its citizens won’t be able to vote in the upcoming provincial elections – this is due to these ongoing disagreements about rules for ethnic representation.
And today in Kirkuk the leaders of the various different ethnic components in the city seem to have widely varying opinions on Article 140. Some think it’s time to give up on the clause, other’s think it’s essential to work through it.
Sunni Muslims Arabs in the province believe that Article 140 should be considered void. “Article 140 is a mistake in the Constitution,” says MP Omar al-Jibouri from the Iraqiya bloc. “And it should be amended.
It is no longer applicable,” al-Jubairi says, because Kurdish authorities have been encouraging Kurdish families to come back into Kirkuk to serve their own purposes.
Of course, the Kurdish politicians, who would like to see Kirkuk become part of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, feel differently. And they say that the Kurdish who are returning to Kirkuk are simply those who were forced to leave before.
“Article 140 is part of the Constitution and is not invalid. Anyone who thinks it is no longer applicable is going against the Iraqi Constitution and the rule of law,” Khalid Shwani, an MP from the Kurdish alliance in Baghdad, argued. “It is the responsibility of Iraqi MPs to cooperate in getting this Article implemented. If Article 140 was implemented I believe that Kirkuk would immediately become part of the Kurdish region,” he concluded.
And the third group with a stake in Kirkuk, the ethnic minority Turkmen, remain in the middle of this dispute. Najat Hussein, a Turkman politician who sits on the provincial council in Kirkuk, describes Article 140 as frozen for the time being because of the circumstances.
All of the wrangling over Article 140, followed by the inactivity, has seen locals becoming more and more frustrated. And recently there have been calls to make Kirkuk an autonomous region all on its own.
One of the supporters of this idea is local political analyst, Ihsan Najm ad-Din. He believes that all of the political parties involved are wasting time and that they don’t seriously want to resolve the problem of Article 140. “The ideal solution is that the people of Kirkuk form their own autonomous region away from the influence of political forces,” ad-Din says.
However until the different Iraqi political forces decide on any of those options, it seems that Umar - and thousands of people like him - will have to keep waiting until a decision is reached about their future.