Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Moribund Kirkuk Committee

The 2009 Provincial Election Law postponed voting in Tamim province because of the disputed city of Kirkuk. Article 23 created a committee made up of seven parliamentarians, two Kurds, two Turkman, 2 Arabs, and one Christian, who were supposed to come up with a power sharing deal for the province before voting would happen there. They were to complete their work by March 31, 2009, but because of their inability to make any decisions they got a two-month extension. May 31 has come and gone and the committee is no closer to finishing their work, so they have been given another week. This is likely to happen again and again as the Article 23 committee appears more for show than actual work.

According to a United States Institute of Peace delegation that went to Iraq in May 2009, the Article 23 Committee was created as a public relations move by parliament. When it was devising the provincial election law the legislators felt they had to show that they were doing something about Kirkuk, so they created the committee. Since it started its work in February 2009 it has hardly met, has little money, and no one thinks that it will lead to anything. The effect is that elections in Tamim are to be delayed indefinitely.

Tamim is a key province in the divide between Arabs and Kurds. The Kurds have been trying to legally annex Kirkuk since the U.S. invasion. They were able to insert Article 140 into the Iraqi constitution in 2005, which said that there should be a census and referendum on the future of all disputed areas by December 31, 2007. That was extended until June 30, 2008, but both deadlines came and passed with no action. Since then the United Nations has taken over the role of finding a resolution to the area. In April 2009 they presented their suggestions. Kurdish officials have called Kirkuk their Jerusalem, and said that they will not rest until it has been annexed by Kurdistan. Kirkuk is also home to one of Iraq’s three largest oil fields, and perhaps two-thirds of its natural gas reserves. Until new voting is held the Kurds want a majority of the seats on the provincial council to reflect their population. The Arabs and Turkmen on the other hand, want the council divided evenly between them and the Kurds, plus a seat for Christians. This situation is likely to remain deadlocked as well. That would seem to suit the Kurds that have de facto control of the provincial council, but in the long-term Arab politicians seem to think that the central government will win. They believe in time, as the Iraqi security forces grow in strength, they will eventually be able to rest control of all of the disputed territories from the Kurds. A U.S. military officer told the United States Institute of Peace officials that as soon as the Iraqi Army had its full compliment of M1 Abrams tanks, the Kirkuk dispute would be over.

The fear of course is that this could lead to violence. The U.S. commander in Iraq General Ray Odierno says that Arab-Kurdish tensions are one of his top priorities. American think tanks have also expressed concern. So far things have remained political, even as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began pushing the Kurds over the disputed territories in 2008. Baghdad taking on the Kurds in Kirkuk however, would be a totally different dynamic. This would seem a prime example of a case needing U.S. mediation before it departs, but the Americans have been deferring to the U.N.. The U.N. in turn, can do little without U.S. support. That means not only are provincial elections not going to happen in Tamim, but a resolution to Kirkuk’s final status is going nowhere as well.

SOURCES

Abbas, Mohammed, “Iraq Kurds say must have say on Kirkuk oil fields,” Reuters, 6/1/09

Agence France Presse, “Iraq delays Kirkuk election report by a week: MP,” 5/31/09

Biddle, Stephen, “Reversal in Iraq,” Center for Preventative Action Council on Foreign Relations, May 2009

Daly, John, “Analysis: Kirkuk elections and Iraqi oil,” UPI, 6/2/09

Haynes, Deborah, “Transcript of The Times interview with General Ray Odierno,” Times of London, 4/9/09

International Crisis Group, “Oil For Soil: Toward A Grand Bargain On Iraq And The Kurds,” 10/28/08

Jakes, Lara, “Key UN report to suggest power-sharing plan in Iraq’s divided Kirkuk,” Associated Press, 3/29/09

Al-Khalidi, Diaa, “kirkuk awaits election law,” Niqash, 3/11/09

Londono, Ernesto, “Kurds, Arabs Maneuver Ahead of U.N. Report on N. Iraq,” Washington Post, 4/17/09

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Parliament’s Mission To Kirkuk Ends In Failure,” 5/27/09

Reilly, Corinne, “U.N. experts urge power sharing in Kirkuk,” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/22/09

Serwer, Daniel and Parker, Sam, “Maliki’s Iraq between Two Elections,” United States Institute of Peace, May 2009

Visser, Reidar, “The Kirkuk Issue Exposes Weaknesses in Iraq’s Ruling Coalition,” Historiae.org, 8/7/08

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