Unlike the rest of the country Kirkuk did not hold provincial elections in January as a result of the long-running battle between the different groups regarding the province’s fate. While Kurds say the province should join the Kurdish region, Arabs and Turkmen reject this proposal. A referendum regarding the fate of the province has been continually delayed and there are fears that the dispute may trigger violent conflict between the different groups.
As part of the Provincial Election Law a special article related to Kirkuk was issued. Article 23 stipulates a temporary power-sharing agreement between the three main groups and the formation of a committee of seven parliamentarians in preparation for local elections. This committee is made up of two Kurds, two Turkmen, two Arabs and one Christian and has been tasked with investigating power-sharing at the local government level.
The committee has until March 31 to finalize its report on the status of the province and suggest a potential solution, at which point the Iraqi parliament will create a special election law for Kirkuk.
At the heart of the commission’s work is the issue of demographics, which will play a key role in determining the division of power and the province’s fate. The Kurds claim that many of the province’s original inhabitants were forced out by Saddam Hussein and that the province should consequently be Kurdish. Arabs say that Kurdish groups have encouraged the return of an excessive number of Kurds thereby distorting the demographic balance.
The Kurds have requested that a survey be conducted to count the number of displaced Kurds, as well as the number of Arabs who subsequently moved into the area. Some Kurdish sources say 470,000 Kurds were forced out of the area, while other voices suggest estimates as low as 10,000. The committee will also conduct a similar survey of Kurdish immigrants to Kirkuk since 2003, requested by the Arabs and Turkmen, in order to assess the number of Kurds who immigrated to the province as a result of incentives from Kurdish political parties.
As part of its investigation the committee will investigate the confiscation of public and private property, of which 44,000 cases have been reported, nationality files, ration cards and all demographic databases.
As of yet the committee has not made significant progress in its tasks. Meetings have been held behind closed doors and according to one Turkmen official, the committee “has not done anything until now and its visits to the city were merely complimentary.”
Meanwhile, some controversy has arisen as a result of Kurdish manoeuvring over the chairmanship of the city council. The Kurds had previously agreed to relinquish control of the position in exchange for the return of boycotting Arab and Turkmen members. Now, however, the Kurds have made this transition dependent on the favourable outcome of article 23 saying that everything should be dealt with as “one package” so as not to increase Arab and Turkmen authority without addressing Kurdish demands.
Rakan Saeed, the Arab deputy governor of Kirkuk, called the Kurdish move “a media hoax”. Furthermore, Saeed insisted that the Turkmen are entitled to the committee chairmanship according to the previous power sharing agreement. The Kurds chose the position of governor “which means that they already have their share,” said Saeed.
Despite the fierce debate that surrounds the issues of power-sharing and the election law, some observers say that a new willingness to compromise is emerging nonetheless. The number of Kurdish security forces in the province has declined and the Kurds recently accepted the usage of multi-lingual signs across the province.
The Kurds are being very “cooperative,” said Tahseen Kihya, a Turkmen official. These signs “show a desire for openness.”