Niqash talks to Kirkuk's deputy governor and Arab bloc member, Rakan Saeed, on tensions between Kurds and Arabs, the recent controversy over article 24 of the election law and the position of the Arab bloc
Niqash: During President Talabani’s recent visit to Kirkuk, he promised Arabs and Turkmen to approve the distribution of government positions along a 32% ratio. Kurds oppose this formula. What is the secret behind their opposition?
Saeed: This is not the first time that the President has promised a consensual compromise for power sharing among the three ethnicities. In 2006 he made a similar promise but did not keep it and today he has lost credibility. Maybe he was only seeking to kill time and shuffle issues. During his last visit a few months ago, the agreement on a 32% ratio was signed and he said that he supported the formula and that he would urge the Brotherly [Kurdish bloc] members to approve it. Not a step forward has been taken. Now, President Talabani has lost the confidence of, and his credibility among, both Arabs and Turkmen.
Niqash: Citing your return to the governing council, while the Turkmen continued to boycott it, it is said that the Arabs of Kirkuk are closer to Kurds than Turkmen. [The Turkmen bloc has since ended its boycott].
Saeed: This is not so. Arabs continued to negotiate while Turkmen insisted on boycotting negotiations. We reached the conclusion that we were able to assess the different problems and to discuss them with the Kurds. We reached a signed agreement that our demands will be met. Only a few provisions were implemented while other important and key issues remained unsettled because the Kurds do not want to give up the privileges they were able to achieve during the last years. The most important demands are related to the release of detainees in north Iraq prisons and the withdrawal of non-official military forces from Kirkuk.
Niqash: On 22 July 2008, the Iraqi Parliament passed law 24 related to Kirkuk’s provincial council elections, but the Kurds opposed the results because of an absence of consensus. Isn’t it better that the city be ruled through consensus?
Saeed: Yes, but the policies of the Kurdistan Alliance were based from the beginning on considering things that are in their interests as holy, whether it be achieved through voting or by consensus. When things are against their interests, they try other methods to reach solutions. Things in Baghdad after 2003 took the form of consensus, why shouldn’t things be the same in Kirkuk?
Niqash: Hussein Ali Saleh, president of al-Huwaijah district council, announced in a statement that Arabs are ready to defend themselves, hinting at the possible use of arms. Do you think that the statement came at the right time? Or is it a mean of exerting pressure?
Saeed: Saleh was speaking in a tribal meeting; that is he spoke in his capacity as a tribal leader not as an official. His statement reflects the extent of injustice suffered by Arabs in Kirkuk compelling them to take such tense stances.
Niqash: Did the visit of Iraq's Kurdistan President Massoud al-Barzani to Kirkuk bring hope or more complexities?
Saeed: Barzani's visit to the city was neither legal nor constitutional. As the Kurdistan regional president he is not responsible for Kirkuk. Kirkuk is under the jurisdictions of the central government in Baghdad. The visit was unannounced, there was no coordination with the council and the province and it was not on the work or visit agendas. It was a provocative visit to create trouble. Arabs boycotted it while Turkmen opposed it. I met with him by virtue of my position and I didn’t feel that he was carrying serious solutions. He only reflected the viewpoint of Kurdish parties being enforced since 2003.
Niqash: What is your vision of possible future developments in Kirkuk?
Saeed: As long as each party insists on its demands we will not be able to achieve any progress and as long as there is one party in command and this party does not acknowledge consensus and mutual compromises things will remain unsettled. The responsibility rests on those who control everything in the city.