Monday, April 23, 2012

Kurds End Their Boycott Of Iraq's Ninewa Provincial Council, But Divisions Within Province Likely To Continue

In April 2012, the Kurdish Brotherhood List ended its two year plus boycott of the provincial council in Ninewa, northern Iraq. The list and the ruling Al-Hadbaa party had been at odds since 2008 over the future of the province, positions on the council, and the role of the Kurds. Immediately after the 2009 provincial elections, the Kurds even threatened to split the governorate in two, saying that all of the districts under their control would refuse to cooperate with the council. Now the Kurds have returned, but there are still major differences with Al-Hadbaa, and within the party itself, showing that the province is nowhere near solving all of its problems.
Governor Nujafi of Ninewa succeeded in getting the Kurdish Brotherhood List to end their boycott, and return to the provincial council (Rudaw)
On April 4, 2012, the Kurdish Brotherhood List ended their two-year long boycott of the Ninewa provincial council, and came back to their posts. Ninewa’s Governor Atheel Nujafi took credit for their return. He had been holding talks with them for at least two years. (1) That included meeting with top officials such as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani. The Kurds hold twelve out of 37 seats on the council. In January 2009, Nujafi’s Al-Hadbaa party won a majority in the governorate elections, and then proceeded to take all of the posts in the local government. That led to the Brotherhood List to walk out. The situation got so bad, that the Kurds said that all of the districts that they controlled in the province would no longer cooperate with the council, effectively splitting Ninewa in two. The two lists could not get along, because al-Hadbaa ran on an Arab nationalist agenda that opposed most of the Kurds’ objectives. Those included opposition to Article 140 of the Constitution that is to decide the fate of the disputed territories, demanding that the peshmerga withdraw from the governorate, and that Arabs being held by the Kurds be release. Ninewa includes many areas, which the Kurds wish to annex, because they were at one time either part of Kurdistan before Saddam changed the boundaries or have large Kurdish populations. They are hoping that Article 140 will allow them to add these districts. Until then, they have administrative authority over most of them, and have deployed the peshmerga to protect their interests there. Al-Hadbaa was a direct threat to those goals when it came to power.
Ninewa province is in northwest Iraq (Wikimedia)
Immediately after the Brotherhood List made their announcement, members of Al-Hadbaa began attacking the event. Some criticized Governor Nujafi for lobbying the Kurds to return, and accused him of cutting a secret deal with them. Some speculated that he wanted to win over the Brotherhood List to ensure himself of a second term in office after the 2013 provincial elections. Sheikh Faisal Abdullah Hameedi Ajeel al-Yaware for instance, of the Justice and Reform Movement within Al-Hadbaa claimed that Nujafi broke his agreement with them when he talked with the Kurds. Members of the Iraqi Islamic Party said that Nujafi acted unilaterally in his negotiations, and did not consult with others. These comments highlighted the internal divisions within Al-Hadbaa. Some factions have been calling for Nujafi to resign. One of the major causes has been his talks with the Kurds. Now that they have come back to the provincial council, these splits within the governor’s party will only come to the fore more. In effect, he has ended their carte blanche rule over the province. 

The differences within Al-Hadbaa were seen in more than just public statements, but in actions as well. On April 11, Al-Hadbaa suspended going to a council meeting, because they claimed the Brotherhood List wanted to make it a secret session. Four days later, six out of the 12 Kurdish councilmembers were stopped at an Army checkpoint north of the provincial capital Mosul, and not allowed to pass. It appeared that some parts of Al-Hadbaa did not want to welcome their council brethren back with open arms. They were determined to make it as difficult as possible to carry on with business as usual.

The rapprochement with the Brotherhood List did not appear possible with the moves that Al-Hadbaa had been making immediately preceding their return. In March 2012, the council voted to freeze Article 140. The local government has absolutely no power over the constitution, but it was a symbolic gesture meant to show their opposition to Kurds annexing any area of the province. The Brotherhood List predictably condemned the move, and demanded that the council be dissolved. Foreshadowing where Governor Nujafi would be heading, he did not approve of the vote, and later said that there were some members of his party that were causing needless problems with the Kurdish list. In late-2011, there was talk that the province would become an autonomous region after Salahaddin said it would wanted to become one. Members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Baghdad, said that Ninewa could not become its own region without consulting with them first. Again, Governor Nujafi said that the two sides needed to reconcile, compromise, and work with each other, rather than constantly argue. Finally, in July 2011, an official from the KDP said that their peshmerga and Asayesh would not withdraw from the province, quoting security as the reason. As noted before, Al-Hadbaa had asked for the peshmerga to leave as a way to gain greater control of the province, and push back Kurdish hopes of annexing the disputed areas. Altogether, the two parties were continuously bickering with each other for the last year. Neither side could agree upon anything, and were intent on taking actions that would anger the other. It was this deep animosity, which made the Brotherhood’s decision to come back to the council all the more surprising.

Since the 2009 provincial elections, Ninewa has been one of the most deeply divided governorates in Iraq. The Brotherhood List not only left the council, but threatened to break away the sections of the province that they controlled. The disputes between it and Al-Hadbaa continued right up to 2012 with each taking a tit for tat approach to each other. It seemed like both sides were waiting out until the 2013 elections came around, to try to change the status quo. Governor Nujafi was not content with that however, and facing a loss of support within his own party, decided to make a concerted effort over several years to get the Kurds back to their positions. It was a political coup for him to have finally succeeded in April. The problem is that it appears to have increased the internal divisions with his own list, which will likely make governing Ninewa all the more difficult in the future, because now there are factions of Al-Hadbaa that not only do not want to work with the Kurds, but with the governor as well.


1. Radio Free Iraq, “Citizens: fed up with the exchange of accusations between Hadbaa and Nineveh List,” 7/3/11


AIN, “Arab members of Nineveh PC suspend their attendance,” 4/11/12
- “Kurds resume attending Nineveh PC session after three years,” 4/11/12

Ali, David, “Al-Hadbaa and Brotherhood List late Magistrate to refer the dispute to the leaders of Baghdad,” Al Mada, 7/4/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Hadba’ Bloc’s Crises Threaten Change of Political Map in Ninewa,” 5/20/11

Elias, Saleh, “mosul governor: baghdad’s sectarian policies causing ‘the country to become unstable,’” Niqash, 7/21/11

Fantappie, Maria, “IRAQ: Nouri Maliki attempts to bolster his power by looking to the provinces,” Babylon & Beyond, Los Angeles Times, 7/13/11

Kamal, Adel, “a secret deal? Ninawa council reunites – but critics fear hidden agenda,” Niqash, 4/12/12

Khallat, Khudr, “Six members of Nineveh List banned from entering Mosul,” AK News, 4/15/12

Muhammad, Barzan, “Nineveh Provincial Council Makes Controversial Decision on Article 140,” Rudaw, 3/26/12

National Iraqi News Agency, “Kurdish MPs from Nineveh demand dismantling its PC,” 3/15/12
- “Kurdish official: Peshmirga, Asaish will not withdraw from Nineveh unless residents of disputed areas ask for it,” 7/14/11

Radio Free Iraq, “Citizens: fed up with the exchange of accusations between Hadbaa and Nineveh List,” 7/3/11

Rudaw, “Nineveh Governor Talks Of Warming Ties With Kurdistan,” 1/3/12
- “Salahaddin’s Federalism Declaration Makes Waves,” 11/16/11

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