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KURDISH IRAQ: the new reality

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KURDISH IRAQ: the new reality
« on: May 17, 2007, 07:07:57 PM »
The future of Kirkuk is primarily a constitutional issue
By Khaled Salih
Commentary by
Friday, May 18, 2007

Many people, with or without a connection to Iraq, to Kurdistan or to Kirkuk, seem to have a ready-made opinion regarding the way to solve the Kirkuk issue. Some say let past injustice be past injustice and live with the new reality. Some compare the situation in Kirkuk with states absorbing immigrants, arguing that to demand any change in Kirkuk is immoral, unjust and against basic human rights. Others label the demands of the Kurds on Kirkuk as irredentism or an obvious process of annexation.

In the case of Kurdistan, we confront the Arabization of Kurdish areas. Arabization was a deliberate political strategy to change the identity of target areas and cities, not a consequence of movements of people. De-Arabization requires a counter-political settlement agreed upon by Iraq's major political forces.

Kirkuk, together with other disputed territories, has become a constitutional issue in post-Saddam Iraq. Article 140 (2) of Iraq's constitution, endorsed by 82 percent of the country's voters in a referendum in October 2005, provides a clear road map for resolving this issue. It lays out a three-phase process, beginning with normalization, census and referendum. Normalization refers to changing the administrative boundaries of Arabized areas back to the pre-1968 borders, that is to say the date before Arabization became an official policy of the Baath Party, and enabling people to return to their areas of origin. Census is the next step. It will determine who will be entitled to vote in the final phase - a referendum to be carried out no later than December 31, 2007, with the objective of determining the boundaries of each administrative unit. In the case of Kirkuk and other Arabized areas, the vote will focus on belonging to the Kurdistan region or not.

Many argue that the issue of Kirkuk could determine the fate of Iraq as a newly recreated state. Some would say that if this road map, as laid out in the constitution, is implemented, the Kurdistan region will face unprecedented difficulties both internationally and regionally. Kurdish leaders argue that postponing this process, especially the referendum, will by no means lead to an easier solution. Rather, honoring the constitutional timetable is the federal government's obligation as well as a condition for its survival as a coalition government. Thus one reason for the Kurdish leadership's unwillingness to delay the process is to avoid a constitutional crisis. Once you open up the constitution for such a dramatic change, several issues, including federalism and the powers of the regions, will be subject to change.

Another argument is that the issue of Kirkuk is not about oil revenues. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has agreed to share all oil revenues. Control and management of currently producing oil fields is already settled in Article 112 of the constitution: The federal government will take responsibility together with producing regions and governorates, and not the KRG alone. For oil revenues from future fields, the KRG has proposed a revenue-sharing mechanism throughout Iraq, including potential fields in Kirkuk. If adopted by Iraq's Council of Representatives, the oil revenue issue is not behind Kurdish insistence on the implementation of the constitutional mechanism for Kirkuk.

What has become obvious in the last three years is that the focus of Kurdish leaders and opinion-makers in Kurdistan is on the issue of justice and rights. Until now several thousands returnees have been patiently waiting, in awful camps, for a peaceful settlement of the issue. Returnees have not attacked people who still occupy their properties and belongings. People seem to have accepted the idea that what has been taken away from them by force must be returned to them in a legal, peaceful and constitutional way. Among the returnees there is no obvious desire for revenge. On the contrary, many have shown a remarkable understanding that people who were part of the Arabization program should be compensated and provided with safety, protection and security as well as jobs and re-housing programs.

Politically, the Kurdish leadership and ordinary citizens seem to have accepted the idea that a peaceful settlement in Kirkuk and other Arabized areas is the only way forward, as provided by the constitution. There is also a great degree of awareness that the constitutional mechanisms also mean political uncertainties, since no one can predict with absolute certainty the outcome of any referendum.

The most important message from Kurdistan is to avoid any violent clash over Kirkuk and other Arabized areas. Many in Kurdistan argue that patience and a peaceful resolution are needed to convince all inhabitants of these areas that joining the KRG administration is a viable alternative. Discussion is well under way to ensure that once Kirkukis decide to join the KRG, an inclusive power-sharing arrangement will help to ease any potential tension. The KRG has already absorbed many Christian and other displaced persons. The KRG also has a similar internal power-sharing formula according to which diverse political actors have meaningful representation in the parliament and government.

Khaled Salih