Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The USG Formally Embraces the Minority View in the Kirkuk Question

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 21 August 2008 0:00

Yesterday, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker explicitly extended his support to a UN proposal of delaying the provincial council vote in Kirkuk apparently without making any substantial changes to the province’s current political line-up, while allowing the vote to go ahead in the rest of Iraq’s governorates. It is noteworthy that this is the model that was earlier rejected by a majority of Iraqi parliamentarians (who favoured a new power-sharing arrangement in Kirkuk in the interim), and was not brought to a vote despite attempts by the government to push it through in early August after the presidential council had vetoed the decision of the Iraqi parliament to create a power-sharing regime in Kirkuk.

The upside of the UN approach to Kirkuk is that it is part of a grand strategy of diluting territorial issues in northern Iraq by tackling them piecemeal, starting with the easiest ones. This is a good approach because there are certain “disputed” areas that are not really disputed and which many Iraqis, regardless of ethnic origin, would be quite happy to assign to the Kurdish federal region. This approach would also contain the application of the concept of “disputed territories” to the north – an important factor with regard to political stability given that ISCI in particular has shown a proclivity for thinking in similar terms in the south, for example in possible border adjustments between Karbala and Anbar. Theoretically this could form the basis for a grand compromise on territorial changes in the north that could bring closure to the Iraqi federalism debate and a renewed focus on development issues more broadly.

What is less clear is why this process should require a perpetuation of the status quo in the provincial government of Kirkuk. If instead steps towards a modicum of power sharing were implemented, there are greater chances that any grand “final status” deal would enjoy credibility in the eyes of the majority of Iraqis. The proposal of the majority of the Iraqi parliament needs not be the perfect approach, but there is a clearly expressed desire not to carry on with existing arrangements, which are seen as strongly supportive of the Kurdish position. This stance represents a challenge to the forces that see the 2005 constitution and the political set-up it created as a viable way forward, and for the USG to persevere in ignoring the majority of the Iraqi parliament on this issue seems like an almost self-destructive strategy. If anything, the forces that find it difficult to consider Kirkuk as anything other than “Iraqi” – and which therefore are reluctant to acquiesce in what is seen as undemocratic special arrangements for the area – are probably even stronger outside parliament than inside it.

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