Iraq: Kirkuk Referendum Likely To Be Delayed
September 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Since the
ratification of the Iraqi Constitution in 2005, Iraq's Kurds have viewed the
issue of the Kirkuk referendum
as a "red line." They have held steadfast that Article 140 of the constitution
be implemented to determine the political future of the oil-rich governorate,
which is estimated to hold 6 percent of the world's oil
Article 140 calls
for a three-step process, starting with "normalization," which aims to reverse
the Arabization policies of the former regime, when thousands of Kurds and
non-Arabs were driven from Kirkuk or were relocated and replaced with Arabs from
central and southern Iraq. This is to be followed by a census and then a
referendum -- scheduled to be held at the end of 2007 -- to determine whether
Kirkuk Governorate will be incorporated into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
The Kurds have stood firm in their desire to see Article 140 implemented
and hope that Kirkuk will become part of the Kurdish region. Indeed, Mas'ud
Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan regional, has warned that "if Article
140 is not implemented, then there will be a real civil war."
there are clear indications that the referendum may not take place as previously
planned. The Firat news agency reported on September 10 that the Kurdish
Alliance had agreed to postpone the referendum until May 2008. The alliance,
which unites the two most powerful Kurdish parties, was clear to stress that the
postponement was due entirely to technical reasons and not political pressure
exerted by opponents of Article 140.
Signs Point To
Rumors of a delay have been circulating for weeks. On August
16, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said it seemed highly improbable that
the referendum would take place by the end of the year, citing the lack of
preparation, sectarian wrangling, and missed deadlines.
timetable called for the census to be conducted by the end of July, but the
normalization process is far from complete. In fact, the normalization process
continues to be bogged down by technical problems and internal bickering. The
Iraqi government on August 2 appointed Ra'id Fahmi as the new chairman of the
committee charged with carrying out the implementation of Article 140, after the
former chairman, Hashim al-Shabali, resigned.
The committee continues to
wrestle with the sensitive issue of how to implement the normalization process,
which inevitably involves removing Arab setters who were brought in during
Saddam Hussein's Arabization program. While the committee has steadfastly denied
that Arabs would be forcibly relocated, it adopted a controversial plan in early
February to entice Arab families to voluntarily leave Kirkuk in exchange for a
compensation package of approximately $15,000 and a plot of land to return to in
their town of origin.
However, some critics of the plan describe it as
tantamount to gerrymandering ahead of the referendum, while others call it
another form of forced migration. The Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association
issued a statement on September 11 warning that the plan would harm the
integrity of Iraq and lead to its eventual partitioning. "The conspiracy to
divide Iraq enters a grave phase with the occupation puppet government
officially encouraging through financial incentives, to expel Kirkuk's Arabs and
facilitate their transfer to other regions of Iraq," the statement said.
Finally, there is the specter of violence among the Kurds, Turkomans,
and Arabs who all have a stake in Kirkuk. There is a fear that holding the
referendum in the ethnically mixed governorate could lead to the type of
sectarian bloodshed that has gripped Baghdad and central Iraq.
Deal Sends A Message
Considering the circumstances, the Kurdish
regional government (KRG) may have had no choice but to acknowledge that a
postponement of the referendum was inevitable. However, the anticipated
postponement of the referendum may have emboldened the KRG to sign a
production-sharing contract on September 8 with the U.S.-based Hunt Oil Company
and Impulse Energy Corporation to conduct petroleum exploration in northern
The deal was roundly denounced by Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn
al-Shahristani, who described it as illegal, since it was not approved by the
central government in Baghdad. The KRG previously signed several contracts with
foreign firms, all which have been condemned by al-Shahristani and the Baghdad
government. This was the first contract the KRG signed with a foreign
corporation since passing its own hydrocarbons law in early August.
new oil contracts were certain to roil the Baghdad government, which has yet to
pass its own oil and gas law after nearly a year of negotiations. While there is
no doubt that the KRG was in negotiations with the two foreign firms, the timing
of the deal sends a message that the Kurds are determined to control the
resources in their region, in light of the Kirkuk referendum postponement.
Indeed, the postponement of the Kirkuk referendum, particularly after
Kurdish leaders were so insistent that it be conducted by the end this year, was
bound to create a certain degree of anxiety among the Kurds. What the Kurds
worry about most is that the delay may become an open-ended postponement, which
may leave the status of Kirkuk languishing
Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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