Kirkuk deadlock: Components rival to secure key posts

Kurdish parties have reached an “understanding” regarding the situation in Kirkuk and the governor post as the Turkmen party hopes to at least secure the position of Kirkuk...

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish parties have reached an “understanding” regarding the situation in Kirkuk and the governor post as the Turkmen party hopes to at least secure the position of Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC) head.

The oil-rich and ethnically diverse province of Kirkuk continues to remain one of the key disputed territories between the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Federal Government of Iraq.

The security and political situation in the province considerably deteriorated following the Oct. 16, 2017, attack and takeover by Iraqi and Shia militia troops. The assault forced the Kurdish Peshmerga, who had protected the area from the Islamic State since 2014, to withdraw from the province.

Since then, Baghdad has ousted Kurdish Governor Najmaldin Karim and replaced him with Rakan Saeed, an ethnically Sunni Arab.

Moreover, since October 2017, the Sunni Arab minority group has held the top post in the province with ultimate authority to make critical decisions without referring to the KPC whose members had been unable to convene as half of them, including the head of the KPC, had fled to the Kurdistan Region since the Iraqi attack.

Over the past few months, Saeed developed a plan to distribute an equal percentage of posts in Kirkuk among the major ethnic groups. This includes 32 percent of posts to Arabs, Turkmens, and Kurds each. The Kurds immediately rejected the plan.

Kurds, which make up a majority of Kirkuk’s population, insist that the governor post is returned to them, but political disagreements between the two leading Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have prompted Saeed to enjoy his post as Acting Governor. The Kurds accuse him of conducting a systematic Arabization campaign in the province.

In the 2018 Iraqi national election, out of 12 seats dedicated to the province, the PUK alone won six seats (the KDP boycotted the vote in the province), and Arabs and Turkmens each secured three seats.

With a minority group currently enjoying the top post in the province, both the KDP and the PUK are reaching “an understanding” about the situation in Kirkuk and the post of governor, according to Rebwar Taha, a PUK lawmaker from Kirkuk in the Iraqi Parliament.

“There are serious attempts to normalize the situation in Kirkuk. The KDP and PUK recently had a productive meeting and had reached an understanding,” Taha told Kurdistan 24 on Tuesday.

“Kurds in Kirkuk are currently in a very bad situation as they are living in a strong psychological war.”

The KDP’s leaders have repeatedly mentioned that since October 2017, Kirkuk has been highly militarized by non-Kirkuk forces and Shia militias. KDP leaders also said they would not return to the province until it is normalized to the pre-Oct. 16 situation. Without the party’s support, the PUK cannot regain its control of the province.

Turkmens, as one of the major components in the province, have not benefited from the current situation in Kirkuk either as they have been unable to secure an influential post. Their eyes are set on the Kirkuk Governor and KPC head posts.

“Turkmens are now demanding the post of the governor,” Ali Mufti, the spokesperson of Turkmen Ili party, told Kurdistan 24.

“But if both KDP and PUK agree among themselves and secure the governor post, then we will demand the post of the KPC head,” Mufti said, referring to the post which Rebwar Talabani currently holds.

The Kirkuk file has been one of the long-standing disagreements between Erbil and Baghdad.

Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution requires the fate of the province to be determined in a referendum where people can freely decide whether they want to be part of Iraq or the autonomous Kurdistan Region.

The article’s deadline was December 2007. However, it was never implemented as the status province remains a critical dispute between both governments.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Additional reporting by Hemin Dalo)