Iraq has taken control of the main land crossing with Turkey, in the Kurdish area of Fish-Khabur, Reuters quoted a customs official as saying Tuesday. The crossing was previously managed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Keep Reading
A reported agreement between Baghdad and Erbil facilitated the peaceful handover of the border posts to the federal Iraqi forces. Keep Reading
On the one hand, the KDP, led by Masoud Barzani who is also president of the autonomous Kurdish region, accused the PUK of “treason.” On the other hand, the PUK has cleared itself from the accusations. The Sulaymaniyah-centered PUK defended the decision of its leaders to order the Peshmerga fighters to withdraw from the contested city as right and appropriate move with regard to the field realities.
The fact is that the PUK decision mainly derived from a consideration of the Kurdish interests. Making a responsible and farsighted decision, the second largest Kurdistan party has steered clear of grave consequences that Barzani’s destabilizing moves could bring about to the interests of the Kurdish citizens, Iraq, and even the West Asian region as a whole.
Barzani shortsightedness vs. PUK farsightedness
Before and after the controversial late September independence referendum, Masoud Barzani, who stood as the breakaway vote’s main driving force, strongly stressed that he was firm in pressing ahead with the organizing the referendum and materializing its results and that there was no way he could quit this course for secession. In addition to Kirkuk, Barzani Peshmerga forces, who operate as an army to the (Kurdistan Regional Government) KRG, have lost major areas including Sinjar, Nineveh Plains, and Makhmur in past few days. But he still resists accepting the reality that his dangerous scheme for separation from Iraq is far from practical. With the Iraqi government, regional actors, and even the Kurdish citizens well aware of the destabilizing and catastrophic ramifications of the Barzani independence bid, the plan is widely regarded as a failed project.
Following the losses, Barzani and other leaders of the KDP along with their media launched a propagandistic campaign to shift the blame and evade shouldering the responsibility. Labelling the PUK order to the Peshmerga forces to retreat as a traitorous act, the Barzani orbit tried to throw the ball in the PUK leaders’ court and so hold them accountable for the recent setback.
Since the beginning, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan with leadership of its late Secretary-General Jalal Talabani took a realistic and farsighted track throughout the Iraqi and Kurdish political developments. The PUK leaders question the KDP labelling of them as traitors and seek explanation for the traitorous acts. For them, the real treason is falling into the trap of the foreign advisors all guided by and linked to the Israeli and American spying agencies. They also see organizing the referendum to distract the public opinion from the Kurdistan economic and presidential crises as the genuine acts of treason to the Kurdish people. They, moreover, argue that Barzani’s rejection of all of the offers of dialogue by the Iraqi religious and political figures for peaceful solution to the problems and avoiding human and financial damages to both the Iraqi and Kurdish people are the actions that represent treason.
Endangering Kurdish citizens’ political and security stability
One more reason can help substantiate the authenticity and rightness of the confrontation-avoiding decisions taken by the PUK leaders in the present conditions. They believe that economic, political, and social growth is only possible if there is political stability that is an outcome of stable security conditions. Military adventures and the resultant destabilization of the Kurdish region and Iraq will only render things worse. One of the aftermaths of Iraq split will be tumultuous security conditions, something that will leave impacts on the already-critical political and economic situation in the autonomous northern region.
Driven by righteousness for making decisions, the PUK made the right decision and ordered its fighters out of the disputed regions in order to stabilize Iraq and check expansion of conflict and ignition of a new civil war. This move is meant to open the door for negotiations to strike a constructive political deal with Baghdad within the framework of the national constitution to end the discords and save the country’s cohesion.
On the other side, the field realities indicate that calm has returned to Kirkuk after government forces retook its control after nearly three years. Even after the recapture, the Kurds are still in command of the police forces in the city. Just contrary to the claims of Barzani, the city is even more stable under the current conditions.
Need for harmony, and not dispute, in post-ISIS Iraq
Having an understanding of the difficulties and realities of the Kurdish region including the political and financial challenges, the PUK has come up with the notion that consensus and cooperation, rather than disagreement and strife, can efficiently serve the Kurds and other Iraqis’ interests. The leaders of the PUK find federalism as the system of choice for the various Iraqi ethnic groups to keep contacts. They are in favor of saving the federal system and invite for removing the existing flaws in it through political ways. This comes while Barzani-led Erbil especially after ISIS terrorist group’s offensives in the country in 2014 exploited the critical conditions of Iraq to cultivate secessionist agenda.
In course of the past years and particularly after the new developments in Iraq that were mainly caused by rise of ISIS terrorist group, the President of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani and other Kurdish leaders insisted that the oil-rich province of belong to Kurdistan region and Erbil had no plans for negotiating the case with Baghdad, calling the northern province the inseparable part of territories under control of the KRG.
Reports suggest that the Kurdish regions is preparing plans to make decisions on administration of the disputed province to finalize annexation of resource-rich Kirkuk to its territory along with holding the independence referendum in less than a month from now.
Various Iraqi parties have been vocal in their opposition to the secessionist agenda of the Kurdish leaders, accentuating their stance that Kirkuk is and will remain an unquestionably Iraqi province.
Additionally, the special conditions of Kirkuk at the time being do not allow for a force or political side to impose its political aspirations on it.
To Konw what are the roots of the Iraqi political sides’ sensitivity to any plans by the Kurds to annex the province we must consider three main point:
Kirkuk’s geo-economic and historical significance
Since foundation of the modern Iraqi state in 1921, Kirkuk has been one of the most important provinces of the country certainly on the strength of digging first oil well of Iraq in it.
The rich oil reserves made the British contractors and politicians interested in Kirkuk, pusheing them to closely watch the string of events in the northern region. Even now and after years of pumping oil out of Kirkuk ground, the province remains holder of the second largest oil reserves in the country after Rumaila oilfield in Basra province. Reports suggest that the disputed province has oil reserves of over 10 billion barrels. Kurdish leaders even boast of Kirkuk having “7.5 percent of the world’s total oil reserves.”
This oil richness plays as a strong drive for the Kurdish region to strive after adding Kirkuk to its territory, a move that if succeeds can provide the KRG with financial resources enough to contribute to its separation process. But the Kurds have ahead the other Iraqi parties that are almost united in their opposition to split of the country, and argue that all Iraqis must benefit from Kirkuk’s oil resources as the country’s undetectable wealth. In fact, the Iraqi government puts premium on Kirkuk oil for its geo-economic importance and thus cannot simply turn a blind eye to its seizure by the autonomous Kurdistan region.
Kirkuk’s demographic, identity significance
Another issue complicating the dispute over Kirkuk is its demographic structure and struggle over its identity property. The province for a long time has been an icon of peaceful coexistence of a diversity of ethnic groups. It is home to Kurds, Turkmens, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Christians, and even Jews. This demographic intricacy makes each of these ethnic groups to claim they are the original inhabitants and owners of the province.
Each of them, meanwhile, hold their own historical evidences to substantiate their claims, making judgment of the observers hard. These claims in turn provoke the different ethnic groups to seriously grow antipathetic to the monopolistic claims of Kurds about Kirkuk. The opposition is to the extent that there is possibility of a large-scale uprising once the Erbil leaders decide to take practical steps to bring under their rule the multi-ethnic province.
Another complexity showing itself specifically in past few days in Kirkuk row is the uncertainty surrounding the status of the province in the country’s constitution. The temporary Iraqi constitution, in 2005, included the Article 58 that offered three-step solution to decide on the final status of Kirkuk. Later, the three steps were included in the refined constitution under the Article 140.
According to the national constitution, the Iraqi government in first step had to conclude until 2007 a process of return of Kirkuk to its administrative boundaries of before 1968, the year Baathist party seized the power in Iraq. The law further asserted under the second stage that the residents who were dislodged from Kirkuk under the Baathists’ Arabization of the province were allowed to return home. And here comes the third stage which is a free referendum to allow the Kirkuk residents to decide if they want to stay under rule of the central Iraqi government or be part of the Kurdish region’s administration.
But the problem failed to be resolved until late 2007 as the authorities failed to even make minimum progress to defuse the tensions. The failure is majorly blamed on the sensitivity of various political sides shown to the case. The recent claims of Kurds over Kirkuk violate terms of the roadmap presented by the Article 140 as Erbil has totally ignored it in its bid for Kirkuk annexation. The analysts warn that Erbil’s unlawful move to administratively add Kirkuk to its areas of control will violate the central government’s authority.
The legal roadblocks indicate that any unilateral effort of the Kurds to add Kirkuk to its territory is a failed bid. The common notion is now that organizing referendum in Kirkuk and other territories labelled as “disputed regions” by the Article 140 can trigger a big trouble for the Kurdish region. The central government certainly will not allow the Kurds to easily seize the strategic Kirkuk. A huge confrontation between Baghdad and Erbil over the province is not unlikely.
Beside the central government’s opposition, the Kurdish leaders have another hurdle in their bid. Both regional and international powers such as Iran, Turkey, the US and even the European Union are critical of the forthcoming independence poll in Kirkuk which is believed to bring the Kurds a certain fiasco in their separatist agenda.