The disputed territories in Iraq came to the fore this summer. In August 2008 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent the Iraqi army into the Khanaqin district in northern Diyala province. The area had been occupied by the Kurds since the U.S. invasion, and been under official Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) administration since February 2008. Tensions were so high that violence seemed inevitable but for the intervention and mediation of the United States. Khanaqin is one of a dozen districts in Iraq that the Kurds hope to annex. Currently the KRG occupies 300 miles of territory outside of Kurdistan. The United Nations had been working on these disputed areas since late 2007, but in November 2008 the U.N.’s envoy to Iraq Staffan de Mistura said that the organization would be suspending its effort on the issue until after the provincial elections scheduled for January 2009.
The Iraqi constitution’s Article 140 is supposed to deal with Kirkuk and other disputed territories, but it has never been implemented. By December 31, 2007 the government was supposed to have completed a census of Kirkuk and held a plebiscite on whether the population wanted to join Kurdistan or not. As the end of 2007 approached and nothing substantial had happened, the Kurds agreed to a six-month delay. That too has passed with no action either. In early 2007 when it was apparent that the article was not going to work any time soon, the U.N. began looking into alternatives.
On August 10, 2007 the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1770 that said the U.N. envoy to Iraq would work on the disputed territories. The first thing Staffan de Mistura did under this new resolution was to get Baghdad and the Kurds to agree to delay Article 140. This was supported by the United States who began pushing for a negotiated settlement instead of 140. This was a great disappointment to the Kurds who had hoped that the constitution would ensure a legal take over of the areas. They feared that any negotiations would cost them territory, especially Kirkuk, which is the most revered by the Kurds.
5 – Akre, 17 – Hamdaniya, 77 – Khanaqin, 79 – Kirkuk, 81 - Makhmur, 92 – Shekhan, 93 – Sinjar, 98 – Tal Afar, 100 – Tilkaif are some of the areas to be mediated by the United Nations under Resolution 1770
The U.N. and the U.S. have been moving towards power sharing and a division of disputed areas since the end of 2007. In December of that year, the U.S. pressured the KRG into accepting a division of power with the Arabs in Kirkuk’s Tamim province. At the same time, the U.N. began working on a 3-phase report on what to do with the other territories. In June 2008 they released their initial report that dealt with four areas. The U.N. suggested that two, Makhmur in Tamim and Akre in Ninewa would go to Kurdistan, while Hamdaniya would go to Ninewa and Mandali to Diyala. The U.N. specifically chose these four to go first because they had Arab and Kurdish majorities and would evenly be split. That didn’t seem to help as no side was happy with the report. Both the Kurds and Baghdad however seemed to accept the process. The second report is to address Tal Afar, Tilkaif, Shekhan and Sinjar in Ninewa, and Khanaqin in Diyala. The final one would deal with the thorniest issue, Kirkuk. De Mistura was supposed to have finished this work by September or October 2008, but that didn’t happen. Now the U.N. envoy has said that he is going to postpone his work until after the provincial elections in January 2009. De Mistura said that he didn’t want the process to be caught up in politics and electioneering. The Kurds condemned the delay.
Tensions between Kurdistan and Baghdad have only grown since the first U.N. report. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki feels that his security operations have strengthened his hand, and he is working to limit the Kurds in a number of disputed areas including Mosul, Kirkuk, and Khanaqin. The KRG in turn have condemned his moves, claiming that Maliki is attempting a power grab, and is undermining the constitution. Only through strong pressure by the United States and the United Nations can these contested territories be resolved. Even then they might not be able to resolve this thorny issue, which pits the regional aspirations of the Kurds against the determination of Maliki to assert national power, along with the demands of minorities. The U.N.’s initial recommendations were not welcomed, but all sides seemed to agree to the organization’s work, which is a positive sign that they might accept its arbitration to fix this mounting problem.
For more on Khanaqin and the Kurd-Maliki dispute see:
Cold War Between Baghdad and Kurds Turns Hot
Could Maliki Be Deposed?
Deal Struck To Defuse Khanaqin Issue
Khanaqin Deal Off?
Kurdish-Baghdad Tensions Over Diyala
The Kurds Come Out Swinging
Maliki Still Pushing The Kurds On Khanaqin District
Maliki Ups the Ante in Khanaqin District of Diyala
Mosul: The New Battleground Between Maliki And The Kurds
Two Reports On Trying to Solve The Kirkuk Issue
Agence France Presse, “Iraqi Kurds Accuse UN Of Delaying Report On Disputed Areas,” 11/30/08
Alsumaria, “Arabs in Kirkuk refuse UN recommendations,” 6/9/08
Aswat al-Iraq, “95 lawmakers criticize the U.N. recommendations over disputed districts,” 6/7/08
- “KRG: PM Should Create, Not Undermine, National Unity,” 12/2/08
- “Military units should be under central govt. control,” 8/19/08
Dagher, Sam, “Can the U.N. avert a Kirkuk border war?” Christian Science Monitor, 4/25/08
International Crisis Group, “Oil For Soil: Toward A Grand Bargain On Iraq And The Kurds,” 10/28/08
Janabi, Nazar, “Kirkuk’s Article 140: Expired or Not?,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/30/08
Londono, Ernesto, “Kurds in N. Iraq Receive Arms From Bulgaria,” Washington Post, 11/23/08
Paley, Amit, “Strip of Iraq ‘on the Verge of Exploding,’” Washington Post, 9/13/08
Russo, Claire, “The Maliki Government Confronts Diyala,” Institute for the Study of War,” 9/23/08
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