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Kirkuk Slides Towards the Brink

Muhammed Abdullah
The long controversial issue of elections in oil-rich Kirkuk has been sidelined by the prospect of imminent civil war in the city. Kirkuk, described by analysts two years ago as a “time bomb” waiting to explode,…
15.08.2008  |  Kirkuk

At the end of July article 24 of the provincial council election law, decreeing a postponement of elections in Kirkuk in view of forming a committee with the task of dividing provincial council seats evenly among Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, was passed by Iraq’s parliament. Kurds strongly opposed the legislation and President Jalal al-Talabani vetoed it, sending it back to parliament for reworking. Subsequently, in a session of the Kirkuk provincial council boycotted by Arabs and Turkmen, the Kurds who hold a majority of seats decided to annex the province to the Kurdish Region.

The visit of Iraq's Kurdistan President, Massoud al-Barzani, to Kirkuk on August 8, the first of its kind to the province since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, during which he reiterated his demand that Kirkuk be annexed to the region, increased the tension. The Turkmen Front and the Arab Consultative Council boycotted the meetings held by Barzani, who branded Kirkuk as “Iraqi Kurdistan’s city.”

As the situation deteriorates, Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen ethnic emblems expressing support or opposition towards the annexation of the city to the Kurdish Region have become increasingly visible across city squares and neighborhoods. This comes following the failure of meetings between Thomas Krajeski, the US Embassy’s senior advisor on northern Iraq, and representatives of the different groups. Krajeski called for consensus but faced obstacles that could not be overcome. He emphasized that the US administration “is very concerned about the issue of Kirkuk and considers it one of the most important issues in Iraq,” stressing the need to “hold provincial elections because of their importance in the democratic transformation of the country.”

The Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party, headed by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, called on greater Kurdish effort to contain the crisis in order “to prevent the political conflict in Kirkuk from becoming an ethnic one after having overcome the sectarian conflict.” Rashid Al-Azzawi, a parliament member of the al-Tawafuq list, warned of the potential eruption of a “civil war” if Kurds annex Kirkuk to the Kurdish province. Kurdish leaders, more than once, have described these warnings as unjustified, saying that the annexation of Kirkuk will protect the cultural and historic rights of other minorities as guaranteed in the region’s constitution.

Despite the agreement between political blocs to hold an emergency meeting in the coming days to re-examine the Kirkuk crisis, non-Kurds in Kirkuk continue to strongly oppose the annexation of the province, demanding the cancellation of article 140 (which calls for a referendum to decide the province’s fate) arguing that the time period mandated by the article has expired.

Kurds strongly oppose the cancellation of article 140 of the constitution. Rizkar Ali, head of Kirkuk's provincial council, stressed the “legitimacy of the council’s demand of annexing Kirkuk to the Kurdish Region according to the vote recently made by the council.” Meanwhile, Anwar Byraqdar, president of the Turkmen al-Adalah (Justice) Party told Niqash that the “Turkmen support the decisions of the Iraqi parliament and the annexation of Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Region depends on the voting of all Iraqis and is not a Kurdish decision.”

Arabs and Turkmen also continue to demand that government forces replace the Kurdish troops in the province, citing the “failure of Kurdish troops to control the security situation and their bias towards Kurds,” said Muhammad Khalil al-Jibouri, a member of the Arab group in the province’s council and a spokesman for the Arab Kirkuk Front. “We believe that the election results will not be fair if conducted under Kurdish control over,” added al-Jibouri, justifying the refusal of parties and Arab tribes leader to meet with Barzani during his visit to the city “because we are convinced of the uselessness of the meeting especially as Barzani supports the Kurdish list’s demand to annex Kirkuk to the Kurdish Region and has publicly threatened to enforce annexation it if political blocs do not reach a solution.”

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