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Ban Calls for Kurdish Compromise on Disputed Territories

Qassim Khidhir Hamad
The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has urged the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to reconsider provisions in the region's draft constitution which lay unilateral claim to disputed territories.
13.08.2009  |  Erbil

In a statement Ban expressed concern about the growing tensions between the central government in Baghdad and the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan and urged the two sides to settle their differences through political compromise.

More specifically, Ban said that the KRG had aggravated tensions by asserting Kurdish sovereignty over disputed territories including oil-rich Kirkuk province and areas of Nineveh and Diyala provinces, all of which the central Baghdad government also claim sovereignty over.

The draft constitution also angered Baghdad as it stipulated that the Central Government had to obtain the prior consent of the Regional Government before concluding any international treaties applicable to the Kurdish region.

These articles provoked an immediate backlash from Iraqi politicians who said that the document usurped the powers of the Central Government. "Not only is it not compatible with the federal Constitution but it violates it and gives the [Kurdish] Region more power than Baghdad," declared Ossama al-Nujaifi of the Iraqi National List when the document was first published.

In his statement Ban called for an end to provocative and hostile acts and statements including those that pre-judge the future of disputed territories such as Kirkuk.

“The process for discussing disputed internal boundaries is in the early stages, but I expect and hope that the political will displayed by both sides will remain and that all parties will continue to work together to positively affect the situation on the ground and ensure that progress through dialogue continues,” said Ban in a statement issued by the United Nations.

Ban’s statement comes on the back of a UN report released in April which called for the two sides to reach a negotiated settlement to be confirmed by a local referendum.

Immediately after the release of Ban's statement, the Kurdistan Regional Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, formed a committee to consider and act on Ban’s comments.

"We will carefully study his report and statement," said Falah Mustafa, head of the KRG’s Foreign Affairs office, adding that all disputes should be settled in a legal manner according to the Iraqi constitution. Regarding the status of Kirkuk this refers to article 140 which calls for a referendum to determine the province’s fate.

"We [the KRG] do not accept any alternative solution for Kirkuk; article 140 should be implemented," he said.

But, following Ban’s statement, the KRG did reaffirm the necessity of UN mediation in resolving problems between Baghdad and the KRG.

In an interview with Niqash the KRG's chief UN coordinator, Dindar Zebari, said that the UN has a crucial role to play in order to resolve issues of disputed areas, natural resources and federalism.

"The [UN] report was a wake-up call for the KRG to wisely and cautiously deal with the problem of the disputed areas," said Zebari. “But regarding the Kurdistan draft constitution, I think UN has misunderstood it and is misinformed about the article which talks about the disputed areas."

According to Zebari the draft constitution accepts the ultimate supremacy of article 140 in arbitrating the dispute even if this means that territories that the KRG historically consider part of the Kurdish region are lost.

"It is not a crime to claim, like the Palestinians claim that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, that Kirkuk is historically part of Kurdistan. But article 140 and the people of Kirkuk will decide the future of Kirkuk," he said.

Zebari said the KRG welcomes Ban’s comments and any foreign intervention in the dispute with the central government. "In the past we always were under the mercy of Baghdad but now we see the international community is involved in Kurdish issue. It is very healthy for us because we get international sympathy," he said.

But other Kurdish politicians reacted mores strongly to Ban’s remarks.

According to Kamal Kirkuki, vice president of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, Ban was not provided with the historical context of the disputed territories which, he says, demonstrate conclusively that they are part of the Kurdish region.

"There are some groups inside Iraq who do not want the problems between Kurdistan and Baghdad to be solved, and these groups have sent wrong information to UN regarding the Kurdistan Draft constitution," said Kirkuk, pointing to Arabic, Ottoman and international documents which prove Kurdish control of the disputed territories.

Yet, despite some frustration most Kurds say they are keen to see continued UN involvement - a role that the UN says it will continue to play.

"The national elections in 2010 and the issue of ethnically disputed areas, including oil-rich Kirkuk, are the two of the most critical priorities currently facing the UNAMI in promoting long-term stability in Iraq," said Ad Melkert, the newly appointed Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq.