Experts Urge Power-Sharing for Kirkuk
But Kurds in no mood to give up on demand for referendum on province’s fate.
IWPR - By Mariwan Hama-Saeed in Washington
Kurds should explore the possibility of a power-sharing agreement for Kirkuk because the competing claims of the province’s communities will not be resolved through a referendum over its future, several international experts told a Washington conference at the weekend.
But Kurdish participants at the gathering in the US capital warned that a ballot over whether Kirkuk is governed by the Kurdistan region or central government, as required by Article 140 of the constitution, was the only way forward for the province – and that failure to hold one would be disastrous.
The conference, held May 9-11, and sponsored by the Washington Kurdish Institute, the Kurdistan National Congress of North America and the University of Pennsylvania, attracted more than 100 Kurds and experts from think-tanks and the US government.
The conference tackled issues ranging from the conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK, to discrimination against Kurds in Iran, Syria and Turkey – but Kirkuk and the challenges of implementing Article 140 headlined the event.
Kurds have grown increasingly frustrated over delays in its implementation. “Washington is the centre of politics and the way things are dealt with here affects all the world,” said Najmaldin Karim, president of the Washington Kurdish Institute. “We want to send the message that Article 140 is not dead.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrians were expelled from Kirkuk. The regime brought in Arab families as part of its Arabisation policy to change the demographics of the diverse, oil-rich province.
Article 140 calls for a process of normalisation that compensates and moves settlers back to their places of origin while allowing original inhabitants to return and also receive compensation. A census and referendum would then take place.
The normalisation process has been pushed back due to violence and chaos in Kirkuk – often referred to as a “powder-keg” – and many argue that disputes over Kirkuk can only be resolved with a power-sharing agreement between the province’s many ethnic and religious groups.
Kurds are likely to benefit from a referendum, which is why some Turkomans and Arabs, who want to see Kirkuk become part of the central government or an independent province, are against the implementation of Article 140.
Arabs, Turkomans, Assyrians and Kurds from Kirkuk were invited to the conference but did not receive visas, said Karim.
Tensions have been mounting between the Kurdish authorities and the central Iraqi government, with the former accusing the latter of dragging its feet on Kirkuk.
“Article 140 is very important for us and our people in that area. [We] are impatiently waiting for the article to be implemented,” said Kamal Kirkuki, deputy speaker of the Kurdistan parliament.
He vowed that Kurds “will resort to mass civil disobedience if we find out there is a conspiracy against the implementation of Article 140”.
But some international experts at the conference argued that parties representing Kirkuk’s many communities must reach a power-sharing agreement, because the current instability and ethnic rivalry would not be resolved through a referendum.
Jason Gluck, a rule of law adviser with the United States Institute of Peace, said it was difficult to implement the article in what he called a “hostile environment”. He also said that the Iraqi government is not legally obliged to abide by Article 140 because the deadline for its implementation expired on December 31.
“The political reality indicates that a political agreement is necessary,” he said.
David Pollock, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agreed that a power-sharing deal could provide Kirkuk with some stability. He maintained that because several groups have competing legal and historical claims on Kirkuk, a referendum is not the solution for the province’s problems.
“The best approach is to figure out what works for all parts and reach a consensus that will work and satisfy all parts,” he said.
Kurdish parties hold 26 of the 41 seats in the Kirkuk provincial council and have been accused of marginalising other communities. But they seem to be recognising the importance of political consensus, however, as Arab lawmakers agreed to return to the council in December in a power-sharing agreement following a year-long boycott.
Qubad Talabany, Kurdistan Regional Government representative to the US, maintained that Kurdish leaders must win the hearts and minds of non-Kurds in Kirkuk.
“We must not resolve a crime by committing crimes,” he said.
But a power-sharing agreement in place of a referendum is not a popular option with Kurds, who pushed hard for Article 140 to be included in the Iraqi constitution.
University of Pennsylvania political science professor Brendan O’Leary, who advised the KRG in drafting the Iraqi constitution, warned that if a referendum isn’t held, Kurds may be prepared “to take matters into their own hands”.
The two main parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, are also under pressure from nationalists to push for Article 140, he noted.
Mohammed Ihsan, a senior KRG representative, said there would be dire consequences if the referendum is not held.
“Implementing Article 140 is going to bring some problems,” he said. “But neglecting it is going to bring a disaster to Iraq.”
Mariwan Hama-Saeed is IWPR’s Iraq editor.