ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurds should put the "normalization" of Kirkuk, including the return of Peshmerga forces, as a condition to participate in the next Iraqi government, the ousted Kurdish Governor said on Monday.
Najmaldin Karim made the comments in an interview with Kurdistan 24 in Erbil as the nation faced a political crisis following contested parliamentary elections held on May 12.
Karim was the democratically-elected Governor of Kirkuk until last October, when Iraqi forces, backed by pro-Iranian Shia militias, attacked and took over the city in a military operation.
“We have to return to Kirkuk,” he said, “to normalize the situation in the city and provide services to the people.”
He added that Kurds should prepare a united list for the upcoming provincial election in the province.
Kirkuk is scheduled to hold an election on Dec. 22 along with other provinces in the country. It is the first provincial vote in Kirkuk in 13 years.
“Kirkuk and other areas outside of the Kurdistan Region’s administration are occupied. The situation there is not normal,” he continued. “Our return to Kirkuk should be in a way that we can serve our people and prevent injustice.”
“The first condition for Kurds to return to Baghdad should be normalization of Kurdistani areas [including Kirkuk]. Without this condition, Kurdish participation in any Iraqi government would mean accepting and recognizing the current situation.”
Following the Oct. 16 military attack by Iraqi forces and Shia militias, Peshmerga forces withdrew from Kirkuk and other disputed territories, though they had been protecting the areas from Islamic State (IS) attacks since 2014.
In the months that have ensued, the security situation in Kirkuk has deteriorated considerably.
Kurds, who make up the majority of the population in ethnically diverse Kirkuk, demand the return of Peshmerga to the province, similar to how those areas were jointly administered by Iraqi forces and Peshmerga in the years before 2014.
Karim spoke of the fact that IS activities have dramatically risen in the region, with people getting killed on a daily basis.
“Those who are in charge of Kirkuk security now were unable to liberate the Turkmen village of Bashir from Da’esh for three years,” he said, a reference to Hashd al-Shaabi militias.
Kirkuk is one of the disputed territories claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Federal Government of Iraq. Article 140 in the Iraqi Constitution required an exclusive referendum to be held in the province and other disputed regions by the end of 2007 to determine the future of those areas, but it has never been implemented.
“[Iraqi Prime Minister Haider] Al-Abadi, with the help of some Kurdish persons who view themselves as heroes, attacked and occupied 50 percent of Kurdistan’s land,” the former Governor alluding indirectly to certain leaders within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Karim's party and the one that got the majority of votes in Kirkuk during May's election.
KURDISTAN REFERENDUM AND KIRKUK
Regarding the Sep. 25 referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region, in which Kirkuk was included, Karim said the “attack and occupation” of the province has nothing to do with the vote.
“Previously in 2008, Baghdad deployed forces to Kirkuk. In 2012, they formed the Dijla Operations [Command] and we combatted them. They deployed forces to the town of [Tuz] Khurmatu in 2015. Those who say the reason for the attack was the referendum are trying to hide or justify the betrayal.”
Regarding the PUK’s stance on the referendum, he mentioned that the party, including the leadership, Central Council, and also the Politburo, of which Karim is a member, all supported it. “The decision of the referendum was the roadmap of the PUK’s leadership.”
He said that those who now blame the referendum for the current situation in Kirkuk "were inking their fingers in front of the media" while voting ‘Yes’ in independence poll, "saying it was the happiest day of their life,” including the opposition parties.
Karim called on the PUK’s first deputy Secretary-General Kosrat Rasul to investigate and punish those PUK leaders who were involved in “the Oct. 16 betrayal.”
“If the PUK is unable to investigate such a case, how can they implement the promises they gave it to people?”
Regarding an arrest warrant issued against Karim the previous week in Kirkuk, he explained that the Kurdish judge who had ordered it had been forced by "some Kurds" to make the decision, indirectly accusing PUK leaders widely thought to have helped Iraqi forces to take over the province.
He mentioned that judges from other ethnic and religious groups in Kirkuk have tried to investigate his case, but they were prevented and threatened by the same Kurdish leaders.
Karim also noted that some “gangs” had confiscated his personal property in Sulaimani Province without offering further details.
IRAQ'S MAY ELECTION
Karim stated that the coalition of Prime Minister Abadi had come in third place in the recent election, and so he then orchestrated the current decision of the Iraqi Parliament to hold a manual recount.
“Abadi was introducing himself as a successful leader to people. Europe and America were backing him to win and continue the second term of the premiership, but now he turned out to be the third," Karim said. "This means that he does not have the personality to rule the country."
“Before, we advised them, [the US and Europe] 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket.'”
Regarding the current cabinet, Karim noted that Abadi had promised to bring technocrats to his government, “but the ministers he brought were more bureaucrats who delayed government work.”
The Kurdish official explained that the current situation in Kirkuk is unstable, and no matter how many seats the Kurds gain in the province, the absence of Peshmerga would limit their abilities.
“Kurds in Kirkuk, in a normal situation and with a fair election, would gain eight seats for the Iraqi Parliament. In this situation, though, even if all 12 seats go to Kurds, it will have no impact because Kirkuk is now is under the authority of Hashd al-Shaabi and federal police," Karim continued.
"Even PUK officials in Kirkuk cannot have the guards and security they choose. The truth is that Kurds, this time, did not vote."
Editing by John J. Catherine
(Yadgar Fayeq conducted the interview)