Sunday, February 8, 2009

Unfinished Business – Tamim Province

The Kurdistan Regional Government recently announced that they would be holding regional parliamentary elections in May 2009. The elections in fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen provinces have just concluded. That leaves Tamim as the only governorate that has not held or plans to hold balloting. The provincial election law, passed in September 2008 postponed voting there until a committee could come up with recommendations on how to conduct them there. Those findings are due at the end of March, but recent comments from a Kurdish politician questions whether they will have their work done on time, leaving the future of the province up in the air.

On February 2, a parliamentarian from the Kurdistan Islamic Union, an independent Kurdish bloc, claimed that the Tamim committee was not doing its job. He said that they will not have their work done by March 31, the deadline set by parliament in the provincial election law, which will threaten elections in that province. The Islamic Union member went on to say that the rest of the country had voted, and that any delay by the committee would be unfair for the citizens of Tamim.

Tamim is in northern Iraq and contains the disputed city of Kirkuk. In the January 2005 provincial elections, the List of Kurdistan Brotherhood led by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, took over half of the votes in the province, gaining control of 26 of the 41 seats on the provincial council. The rest of the votes went to the Iraqi Turkman Front with eight seats, the Iraqi Republican Group, five seats, and the Islamic Turkman Coalition and National Iraq Union that gained one seat each. The election allowed the Kurds to take over the administration of Tamim, the security forces, and appoint the governor, something greatly resented by the Arabs, Turkmen, and some Christians. The Arabs went on to boycott the council until December 2007. The Kurds have long wanted to annex Kirkuk and northern sections of Tamim, and the provincial election was their first step in that direction. They also attempted to force Arabs out of Kirkuk, and pressure Christians to support their moves.

Later in 2005 when the Constitution was drafted, the Kurds were able to insert Article 140. It called for normalization, a census in Tamim, and a vote by December 31, 2007 on whether Kirkuk wanted to be annexed. That followed the Kurds strategy of trying to peacefully, politically, and legally incorporate Kirkuk into Kurdistan, while creating facts on the ground through their control of the province to support their cause.

Article 140 has never been implemented however. By early 2007 the United Nations realized that the constitutional process would only lead to more conflicts, so they began looking for alternatives. On August 10, 2007 the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1770 that said the U.N. representative in Iraq was to work on settling Kirkuk, and all other disputed territories in the country. The first thing special envoy Stephan De Mistura did was get the Iraqi government to agree to delay Article 140. That was put off until June 30, 2008. When that passed no new date was set. This was supported by the United States that came to feel that a U.N. negotiated settlement was the best way to resolve Kirkuk. The Kurds however felt betrayed. They were also worried that any negotiations would cost them territory, perhaps even Kirkuk itself.

In the meantime, the Kurds were forced into a power sharing agreement that only angered them more. In December 2007 the Kurds gave up five of their seats on the provincial council so that the Turkmen could have eleven, the Arabs eight, and the Christians one. This ended the Arab boycott of the body that had been going on for over two years. The Kurds were also supposed to create a joint decision making process, release Arab prisoners, and have the Kurdish intelligence service withdraw from the province. The Kurds believed these moves violated the constitution, so they never followed through with the deal other than to give up some of their council seats.

To express their dissatisfaction, the Kurds began stonewalling important legislation and blocking U.S. policies. For example, they refused to allow the formation of Sons of Iraq in Tamim by the Americans for a very long time. They also began holding up a number of important laws such as the original version of the provincial election law.

The main sticking point in the passage of the provincial law was how to deal with Tamim. The first version of the legislation had an amendment inserted by a Turkmen parliamentarian that would postpone elections in Tamim, replace the Kurdish peshmerga with regular security forces, while the provincial council would be divided in thirds between the Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen, along with one seat for Christians. The council would then determine how elections were to be held there. Arabs and Turkmen supported this proposal because they knew they would lose in any vote. It was also taken up by the opposition in parliament made up of the Sadrists, the Fadhila Party, the National Dialogue Council, the Iraqi National List, along with parts of the Iraqi Accordance Front, who were opposed to the expansion of Kurdistan. The Christians on the other hand, were against the power-sharing deal because it would only give them one seat. The Kurds at first walked out in protest over the article, and then the President of Iraq Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, vetoed it. Finally the parliament agreed to a version of the law that also held off on balloting, but created the committee discussed before. The Kurds came up with this plan because it maintained their control over the province.

If the Tamim commission does not have its work done by the end of March, the issue will then pass to Baghdad. The Prime Minister, along with the President of Iraq Jalal Talabani, and the speaker of parliament are supposed to work with the United Nations to come up with an election process for Tamim if that happens. That could be very complicated, as Maliki has actively opposed the Kurds’ aspirations to annex any disputed territory. That will probably mean the future of Kirkuk will again be put off. That would suit the Kurds as they already have de facto control. Maliki on the other hand, after his victories in the provincial elections, may be tempted to send in Iraqi security forces as he did in Khanaqin in Diyala to assert central government authority, and push out the Kurds. The Prime Minister has been doing something similar in Mosul since the summer of 2008. The U.S. can’t be expected to step in as President Obama is committed to withdrawing U.S. forces, and even during the end of the Bush term abdicated responsibility to the United Nations. Tamim shows that there are still many difficult issues remaining in the country, with the Arab-Kurd disputed right at the top. The feuding parties have not been willing to negotiate or compromise. Instead they have put off any tough decisions as in the provincial election law, and preferred maneuvering on the ground to assert their authority.


Ali, Ahmed and Knights, Michael, “Kirkuk: A Test for the International Community,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/14/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “Investigation committee in Kirkuk ‘late’ – MP,” 2/2/09

BBC News, “Guide to Iraqi political parties,” 1/20/06

Goode, Erica, “Iraq Passes Provincial Elections Law,” New York Times, 9/25/08

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

Iraq The Model Blog, “Talabani Rejects the Provincial Election Law,” 7/24/08

Al-Khalidi, Diaa, “divisions split kirkuk Christians,” Niqash, 11/11/08

Knights, Michael and McCarthy, Eamon, “Provincial Politics in Iraq: Fragmentation or New Awakening?” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, April 2008

Raghavan, Sudarsan and Londono, Ernesto, “Iraqis Take Flawed Step On Electoral Legislation,” Washington Post, 7/23/08

Reuters, “Iraq’s Kurds to elect parliament on May 19,” 2/2/09

Rubin, Alissa, “Kurds Object to Iraqi Provincial Election Law,” New York Times, 7/23/08

Tavernise, Sabrina, and Muhammed, Riyadh, “Iraqi Measure on Provincial Voting Is Vetoed,” New York Times, 7/24/08

Visser, Reidar, “After Compromise on Kirkuk, Finally an Elections Law for Iraq’s Governorates,”, 9/24/08
- “The Kirkuk Issue Exposes Weaknesses in Iraq’s Ruling Coalition,”, 8/7/08

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