Monday, September 22, 2008

The Kurds Come Out Swinging

Iraq’s parliament reconvened at the beginning of September 2008 after its summer recess. They were greeted by a barrage of statements by Kurds about how angry they were with the central government. Their complaints centered around two events. One was the passage of a provincial election law in July that said they had to share power in Kirkuk, and the other was the Iraqi security forces moving into the Khanaqin district of Diyala province. Both are disputed areas that the Kurds have de facto control over. To them, the actions of Baghdad threatened their hopes of creating a Greater Kurdistan.

The dispute between the central government and Kurdistan started in July of this year. In the middle of that month parliament passed a provincial election law that had two provisions about Kirkuk’s Tamim province. The first said the Kurds had to share power in the provincial council with the Arabs and Turkomen, the two other groups that lay claim to area. Currently the Kurds control the council, the head of the council, and the governorship. Another article said that that the province’s security forces needed to be under Baghdad’s control, when currently the Kurdish Peshmerga militia patrol the area. The next day President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, vetoed the law in the Presidential Council. Since the parliament has reconvened they still have not come up with a new election law that the Kurds agree to.

The second point of contention was the Iraqi army moving into the Khanaqin district of Diyala province. On July 29, Maliki launched Operation Omens of Prosperity to clear the area of insurgents. By August, the Iraqi army entered two villages in the Khanaqin district, Jalwalaa and Quara Taba, and demanded that the Peshmerga there withdraw. This led to a standoff, and then protests by the Kurds, which eventually had both the Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces pulling out of the area. The two sides now appear close to a deal, but none has been signed yet.

Both of these conflicts led to some choice words by Kurdish officials and some provocative moves. First, on August 1, the Kurds in Tamim province demanded that the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) annex the province as a symbolic protest against the election law. On August 6, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) moved two Peshmerga brigades outside of Kirkuk cutting off Arab and Turkomen areas. The situation was so tense Baghdad sent the Defense Minister to check on the situation. The move was obviously meant to show that the Kurds would not give up on their plan to annex the city. As the Khanaqin incident was going on in late August, the Peshmerga minister said that his units were better than the Iraqi army and could take them on.

Since parliament reconvened in early September, the Kurds have become even more brazen. On September 5 an interview with KRG President Massoud Barzani was published where he said the Kurds were not treated fairly in the government, they were being cut out of key decisions, deals that were made with Baghdad were never followed through with, and accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of being an autocrat. Barzani finished by saying that the Arabs were out to get the Kurds, and wondered aloud whether they should even support the coalition government behind Maliki anymore. On September 8, the speaker of the Kurdish Assembly gave its opening speech were he said that the U.S. and other countries that sold heavy weapons to Iraq needed to promise that they would not be used against the Kurds. This came just as the government announced that it was buying $10 billion in weapons from the United States. The Assembly speaker went on to say that Baathism was making a come back within the government, and that they had no right to enter the Khanaqin district. Those statements were probably aimed at rallying the Kurdish public behind the KRG’s increasingly volatile war of wards with Baghdad. On the 12th, an allegedly secret Kurdish document was leaked to the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News. The documents claimed that the United States was becoming so disillusioned with Maliki that it might even consider assassinating him. This was the most outrageous news to emerge from the Kurds, obviously meant to sow dissension between the Americans and Baghdad. It could’ve also been a means to tell Maliki he should rely on the Kurds because the U.S. was unreliable.

Map of Kurdish occupied areas outside of Kurdistan

The underlying cause of all this talk, is the growing fear amongst Kurds that their dream of a Greater Kurdistan will be squashed by the government’s attempt to assert its control over all parts of the country. Currently the Kurds occupy up to 300 miles of territory outside of Kurdistan. This stretches from Sinjar and Mosul in Ninewa province, to the already discussed city of Kirkuk in Tamim and the Khanaqin district of Diyala. In many of these areas the Kurdish flag flies, and security is handled by a combination of the Peshmerga, Kurdish police, and the Kurdish intelligence service the Asayesh. Many are also under official Kurdish administration control such as Khanaqin. Article 140 of the constitution is suppose to deal with these disputed territories through a census, and then a vote on whether they want to be annexed by the KRG. Two deadlines have been set for this, but both have expired. Currently the United Nations is working on negotiated settlements for these regions, because many believe that 140 could lead to more conflict, and possibly even violence. As the veto of the provincial election law, and the recent remarks show however, there’s little evidence that the Kurds are willing to give up de facto control of any of these areas. This is another sign of the momentous political battles that lay ahead for the future of Iraq. It also points to a weak and divided government, despite the improvement in security.

For more on the Kurds and the election law see:

Kurds Walk Out Over Provincial Election Law Debate

Special Sunday Session of Parliament For Election Law

Election Law Update

Conspiracy Theories Abound On Election Law Veto

Kurdish Frustrations Over Provincial Elections Boil Over After Suicide Bombing

For more on Khanaqin see:

Kurdish-Baghdad Tensions Over Diyala

Maliki Ups the Ante in Khanaqin District of Diyala

Deal Struck To Defuse Khanaqin Issue

Khanaqin Deal Off?

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi politicians squabble over election law,” Associated Press, 5/26/08

Adas, Basil, “Crackdown in Diyala worries Kurdish leaders,” Gulf News, 8/27/08
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Agence France Presse, “Kurds fear Iraqi arms purchases,” 9/8/08

Alsumaria, “Kirkuk hurdle before provincial elections,” 9/5/08
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Khidhir, Qassim, “Iraqi army withdraws after Khanaqin demonstration,” Kurdish Globe, 8/28/08

Kurdish Globe, “Peshmarga not withdrawing from Diala,” 8/15/08

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Mohammed, Shwan, “Kurdish forces refuse to quit Iraq battlefield province,” Agence France Presse, 8/13/08

Morgan, Benjamin, “Iraq elections risk delay after presidency council rejects bill,” Agence France Presse, 7/23/08

Muhammed, Ako, “Kurds and their Iraqi allies see differences,” Kurdish Globe, 9/11/08

Paley, Amit, “Strip of Iraq ‘on the Verge of Exploding,’” Washington Post, 9/13/08

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

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Deaths of Iraqis in July Lower Than in May, June,” Washington Post, 8/2/08

Reuters, “Kurd officials split on pullout from Iraq province,” 8/16/08
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Rubin, Alissa, “Kurds Object to Iraqi Provincial Election Law,” New York Times, 7/23/08

Al-Sabaah, “Arab tribes in Diyala reject Jalawla’ joining to Kurdistan,” 6/5/08

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Steele, Jonathan, “Iraqi MPs stall deals on Bush benchmarks,” Guardian, 6/28/08

Taha, Yasseen, and Fadel, Leila, “Iraq bombing kills at least 25 police recruits in Diyala,” McClatchy Newspapers, 8/26/08

Voices of Iraq, “95 lawmakers criticize the U.N. recommendations over disputed districts,” 6/7/08
- “Consensus solution about Khanaqin achieved – lawmaker,” 9/16/08
- “Demo in Diala against Iraqi army forces,” 8/27/08
- “Iraqi forces withdrew from Khanaqin – mayor,” 8/26/08
- “Kurdish official condemns Iraqi army raid on Peshmerga HQ,” 8/24/08
- “Local official escaped arrest warrant in Diala’s disputed town,” 9/5/08
- “Military units should be under central govt. control,” 8/19/08
- “No deal struck between central gov’t, Kurds over Khanaqin-spokesman,” 9/5/08
- “PM al-Maliki will punish Peshmerga deployed outside Kurdish enclave-PM,” 8/29/08
- “Provincial elections, Khanaqin conspiracy against Kurds – official,” 9/9/08
- “Security forces to leave Khanaqin, Peshmerga to return,” 9/3/08
- “Suicide blast in Jalawlaa leaves 70 casualties,” 8/26/08
- “Tensions between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces in Khanaqeen,” 8/12/08
- “UIC proposes postponing Kirkuk elections for 6 months – MP,” 7/15/08
- “Withdrawal of Kurdish forces from Khanqeen asserts security in Diala – MP,” 8/13/08

Warden, James, “Disagreements over Kirkuk’s status could sideline voters,” Stars and Stripes, 7/14/08

Youssef, Nancy, “Kurds storm out as Iraqi parliament OKs Oct. 1 elections,” McClatchy Newspapers, 7/22/08

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