In April 2009 a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), close to Kurdish groups, launched for a campaign to demonstrate that the majority of Kirkuk's residents want the city to be annexed to the autonomous Kurdish Region. The petition’s first sentence read: “We, the people of Kirkuk, the undersigned, demand the annexation of Kirkuk to the Kurdish Region."
Those running the campaign say that they want to review the names and signatures and submit the petition to the UN, the Iraqi Parliament and the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC).
Rizkar Haji Hama, one of the campaign’s organizers, and an official spokesman for the Kirkuk Centre of Democratic Organizations of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told Niqash that “the campaign was organized by a number of Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Assyrian organizations and around 80,000 signatures have been collected. The aim is to reflect the opinion of Kirkuk’s residents on this issue.”
The campaign provoked anger among Arab and Turkmen members of the provincial council (representing 15 out of the council’s 41 seats). They condemned it as a “terror and intimidation” campaign planned and organized by Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, maintained by both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). They called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to ban these organizations from conducting any activity in Kirkuk city.
The Turkmen and Arabs say that the aim of the campaign is "to block the implementation of Article 23 of the election law which provides for power sharing in Kirkuk between the three components." This is not the first time that Kurds have resorted to popular pressure in a bid to determine the fate of Kirkuk province in their favour. On July 22, 2008, when the Iraqi parliament approved article 24 of the provincial election law, Kurdish leaders demonstrated and collected signatures against the step, prompting a presidential veto of the article.
Article 24 had stipulated that Kirkuk’s elections should be postponed, that provincial seats should be shared equally between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen with four percent being given to Christians and that the central government take control of security issues.
As a replacement to article 24, the Iraqi parliament approved article 23 in October, stipulating the sharing of administrative and security powers, without addressing the issue of security forces or changing the proportion of seats held by the different components in the provincial council. The article also called for the formation of a committee of seven MPs (two Kurds, two Arabs, two Turkmen and one Christian) to analyze the situation in Kirkuk.
Arabs and Turkmen say that a solution to the Kirkuk’s crisis is the responsibility of the committee and not of NGOs. Ali Mahdi, a Turkmen member of the provincial council, told Niqash that the petition lacks both credibility and constitutional basis. He added that "members of the two parties [KDP and PUK] went to peoples’ houses and to government departments and used different methods to pressure people to sign the petition.”
Mahdi said that Turkmen provincial council members have initiated legal proceedings against the petition and submitted their complaint to the governor, but that "unfortunately, the law in Kirkuk only applies on Turkmen and Arabs while it does not apply on Kurds." If the Kurds continue collecting signatures and submit them to the UN, Mahdi said that “we will defend ourselves with all possible means."
In a press conference held two weeks ago in Kirkuk, Muhammad Mahdi al-Bayyati, chairman of the article 23 committee said that “this campaign violates the political consensus reached in Kirkuk." He added that it might lead to "a security problem in the city and threaten its stability."
Kurdish figures, however, denied forcing people to sign the petition and say criticism is undemocratic.
“I think that criticizing the campaign is against democratic principles; it is only natural for any party or organization, in the framework of a democratic process, to ask people for their opinion on a particular issue," Khalid Shawany, a Kurdish MP and a member of the article 23 committee told Niqash.
While Jawal did acknowledge that the petition should have presented other options “such as asking people if they want Kirkuk to be an independent region, or remain a province under the authority of Baghdad," he said the petition reflected the frustration of the people. The time has come for the people of Kirkuk to determine their own fate because “articles 58, 140 and 23 have not reached any conclusion."