Friday, September 5, 2008

Deal Struck To Defuse Khanaqin Issue

On September 4, Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) made a new deal to resolve the dispute over the Khanaqin area of northern Diyala province. The two sides agreed to withdraw Iraqi army units from the two areas of Khanaqin that they just recently occupied, Qara Taba and Jalawlaa, to positions just outside of the district, while Kurdish Peshmerga militia would return. The Iraqi forces also would not be allowed back in without coordination with the local authorities who are part of a KRG administrative district.

As reported previously, Iraqi forces originally arrived in Khanaqin on August 10, and gave the Peshmerga 24 hours to leave the area. The Kurds responded by saying that they only answered to the KRG. Ensuing tensions led KRG President Massoud Barzani to travel to Baghdad where he made a deal with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to withdraw the 34th Peshmerga Brigade from parts of Khanaqin. On August 20, the Peshmerga began pulling out of Qara Taba and Jalawlaa. Protests on August 26 however, led by the Kurdish parties, made the Iraqi army leave. On August 29, Maliki, apparently perturbed by the withdrawal of his forces, allegedly told members of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance that Peshmerga would not be allowed to operate anywhere outside of Kurdistan. Now things have seemed to calm down and Maliki and the Kurds have agreed to return to the previous status quo before the Iraqi forces arrived in Khanaqin.

Kurds moved into Khanaqin originally in March 2003 and have been running it ever since as part of the KRG. The area is covered by Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution that says disputed territories should have a census on the population, followed by a referendum on whether they want to join the KRG or not. There have been two previous deadlines to implement these steps, but nothing has happened so far. Khanaqin is especially important because it is the second largest oil producing area of the north after Kirkuk.

Despite the deal, tensions between the KRG and Maliki’s government remain. President Barzani gave an interview with Asharq al-Awsat shortly afterwards in which he lashed out at Maliki’s heavy handed ways, and claimed that the Kurds were being marginalized within the government. This is the second time in recent months that the Kurds have run into political obstacles. During the summer the provincial election law was passed despite the Kurds’ deep opposition to an article about the disputed city of Kirkuk. The Kurdish Vice President Jalal Talabani was forced to veto the law as a result, and work on a new one was postponed for parliament’s summer break. The Kurds are also deeply worried that Maliki’s new assertiveness to deploy army troops throughout the country will mean that they will have to pull out their Peshmerga from other areas across northern Iraq like Mosul, and more importantly Kirkuk. That would threaten the Kurds’ plans of a Greater Kurdistan that envisions annexation of several areas in Diyala, Salahaddin, and Ninewa provinces. Some are even worried that they could lose their autonomy within Kurdistan itself.

SOURCES

Adas, Basil, “Crackdown in Diyala worries Kurdish leaders,” Gulf News, 8/27/08

Khidhir, Qassim, “Iraqi army withdraws after Khanaqin demonstration,” Kurdish Globe, 8/28/08

KurdishMedia, “Massoud Barzani on Kurdistan Region’s conflict with Baghdad,” 9/5/08

Parker, Sam, “Guest Post: Behind the Curtain in Diyala,” Abu Muqawama Blog, 8/20/08

Voices of Iraq, “Iraqi army leaves Khanaqin,” 9/4/08
- “Iraqi forces withdrew from Kahnagin – mayor,” 8/26/08
- “Military units should be under central govt. control,” 8/19/08
- “Peshmerga Forces start withdrawing from Diyala Province,” 8/20/08
- “PM al-Maliki will punish Peshmerga deployed outside Kurdish enclave-PM,” 8/29/08
- “Security forces to leave Khanaqin, Peshmerga to return,” 9/4/08

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