Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for February 3rd, 2012

The Kurdistan Constitution Is Back on the Agenda: Implications for Iraqi Politics

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 3 February 2012 14:10

The project to adopt a constitution for the federal region of Kurdistan (KRG) can be classified as one of the “silent drivers” of Iraqi politics.

The current draft constitution of the KRG was finalized by the Kurdish parliament in 2009. At the time, a referendum on it was expected but it was eventually delayed. Some attribute the delay to internal bickering among the Kurds; others say pressures from Baghdad played a role.

At any rate, Kurdish politicians – and Kamal Kerkuki in particular – are once more talking about the need to have a referendum on the Kurdistan constitution. Reactions from outside Kurdistan have been quite massive. The main reason the KRG constitution is sensitive to Iraqi politicians beyond the Kurdistan region itself is the definition of the Kurdistan region contained in the draft constitution. This includes several areas in the governorates of Wasit, Diyala, Salahaddin, Kirkuk and Nineveh that are claimed by the Kurds but are not currently controlled by them. Politicians in areas claimed by the Kurds in Diyala, Kirkuk and Nineveh are particularly furious about the renewed talk about a referendum.

The protestors make reference to the constitutional principle that no law passed in Iraq can contradict the constitution itself. Does the Kurdish constitution contradict the Iraqi constitution? Technically speaking, it certainly does. This is so because the definition of the Kurdistan region in the Iraqi constitution is very clear: Article 142 says article 53A of the Transitional Administrative Law from 2004 shall remain in force; that article in turn says “The Kurdistan Regional Government is recognized as the official government of the territories that were administered by the that government on 19 March 2003 in the governorates of Dohuk, Arbil, Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk, Diyala and Neneveh”. Of course, Kurdish politicians will lose no time in reminding us that also article 58 of the TAL regarding the settlement of “disputed territories” was given extended life through articles 140 and 142 of the constitution; their staunchest opponents say the failure to implement article 140 by the constitutionally mandated deadline in 2007 signified its death.

Irrespective of the legal complexities involved, it is noteworthy that in political terms, key allies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have previously invested considerable energy in criticizing the Kurdistan constitution for being in conflict with the Iraqi constitution. Importantly, this goes beyond predictable resistance from Turkmen allies of Maliki like Abbas al-Bayati. It also includes people like Sami al-Askari, who in the past has specifically spelt out the differences between the TAL definition of Kurdistan and the definition contained in the Kurdish draft constitution.

The revival of the Kurdistan constitutional referendum question highlights the long-term options before Maliki today.

Maliki can choose to work with the Kurds, support their constitutional referendum plus implementation of article 140 (or the light version proposed by President Talabani). This will inevitably make him look sectarian in the eyes of many Sunni Arabs, who are among the main opponents of Kurdish expansionism – and will in turn likely make him more dependent upon Iran.

Alternatively Maliki can work with Iraqiyya, or with splinters from Iraqiyya, in which case it would be easier to keep Iran at an  arm’s length. But this would also raise the prospect of full secession by Kurdistan, possibly followed by armed conflict to settle final boundaries.

More likely, Maliki will try to avoid making too strong commitments to either side. In the meantime, however, he still needs some political allies to get the annual budget for 2012 passed.

Posted in Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | 25 Comments »