The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 12           March 28, 2005  
Iraqi Kurds make progress toward return to oil-rich Kirkuk
(front page)
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The United Iraqi Alliance, the electoral bloc that won a slim majority in Iraq’s recent elections, has agreed to the return of thousands of Kurds to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Differences over control of Kirkuk and its surrounding Tamim province have been the primary barrier facing the Shiite-led bloc in reaching an accord with the main Kurdish parties on forming a coalition government.

At the same time, suicide bombings, organized largely by supporters of the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, have increasingly targeted Shiites in an attempt to force retaliation. The bombings are beginning to be met with public protests by many Iraqis—including a demonstration of some 2,000 on March 1—and condemnation by leading Sunni Muslim figures.

The question of Kirkuk has been at the center of negotiations between the main parties that won a substantial number of seats in Iraq’s National Assembly through the U.S.-orchestrated elections in January. The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) needs the Kurdish bloc, which received the second-highest vote and netted 75 seats in the 275-member National Assembly, in order to form a government. The UIA won 140 seats, far short of the two-thirds majority that would enable it to form the government outright.

The agreement between the UIA and the Kurdish parties reportedly includes the eventual return of 100,000 Kurds to Kirkuk and redrawing the borders of the Kurdish autonomous regions to include the city. Kurds would resettle there prior to a vote on whether to join the autonomous Kurdistan region. Already, in provincial elections held simultaneously with the January 30 national elections, Kurdish parties won 58.4 percent of the vote in Tamim.

“As for Kirkuk, we agreed to solve the issue in two steps,” said Fuad Masoum, a member of the Kurdish coalition, according to the Associated Press. “In the first step, the new government is committed to normalizing the situation in Kirkuk, the other step regarding annexing Kirkuk to Kurdistan is to be left until the writing of the constitution.”

In the 1970s and ’80s thousands of Kurds were forcibly removed from Kirkuk and the surrounding province by the Hussein regime. Thousands of Arabs were settled there—many also by force—in order to “Arabize” the province and tighten the Baathist regime’s control over the oil resources.

Hussain al-Shahristani, a member of the UIA negotiating team, said anyone expelled from their land in Kirkuk “will be allowed to come back,” the Boston Globe reported.

“We agreed with the Kurds that these two issues are to be solved through the government and they agreed on this,” said Ali al-Dabagha, another UIA negotiator, according to a March 10 AP dispatch. “We told them that the issues will be discussed as soon as the central government is formed.” Al-Dabagha said the two sides had agreed that oil revenues from Kirkuk would be controlled by the central government and spent “fairly to reconstruct all provinces.”

The agreement between the UIA and Kurdish parties also includes a power sharing arrangement of government posts. The Kurds agreed to back Ibrahim Jaafari, a leader of the UIA bloc, for the post of prime minister. Jaafari has held posts in all the previous U.S.-backed administrations in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In exchange, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), would become president of Iraq.

One key ministry post has been set aside to be filled by a Sunni Arab, even though the largest Sunni-led parties and their constituents boycotted the January 30 election.

The Kurds are also seeking to codify limits—which are largely already in place—on Baghdad’s “prerogatives” to control revenue or collect taxes in the Kurdish territory. KDP leader Massoud Barzani said in an interview with the Kurdistan Observer that the Kurds also want control of the 100,000-member military force in the region, composed mostly of former guerillas of the Kurdish peshmerga militia.

Al-Dabagha said the peshmerga would be merged into security bodies such as the border guard and local police, reported AP. He also said there would be no separate peshmerga units and the defense ministry would decide how many of them are needed.

Sharply illustrating the explosive character of the historic fight of the Kurds for self-determination, Barzani reportedly told al-Arabiya TV that Baghdad would need the permission of the Kurdistan parliament in order to deploy Iraqi troops in the Kurdish-controlled northern region.  
Ongoing bombing campaign
Meanwhile, Baathist forces and their allies—including those organized by al-Qaeda in Iraq, headed by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—have been largely responsible for an ongoing campaign of assassinations of Iraqi government officials, bombing attacks on U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and police recruits, and kidnapping of foreigners.

On March 10 a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt he was wearing inside in a tent next to a mosque where Shiites had gathered for a funeral in Mosul, reported Al-Jazeera TV. The explosion killed at least 47 people and wounded 100 others. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Mosul, a mostly Sunni city, with some Shiites, Christians, and Sunni Turks, has been a center of Baathist-led attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces and officials.

Some 2,000 Iraqis rallied in Hillah, a predominantly Shiite city south of Baghdad, chanting, “No to terrorism!” according to AP. On February 28 a car bomb explosion there killed 125 people as they lined up outside a clinic for a physical exam required for positions in the health and education ministries and the security forces. A group calling itself the al-Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq reportedly claimed responsibility.

In addition to Shiite and Kurdish groups, a leading Sunni cleric also condemned the bombing. “The real resistance should only target the occupiers, and no normal person should consider dozens of dead people to be some kind of collateral damage while you are trying to kill somebody else,” the cleric, Ahmed Abdul-Ghafur, reportedly told worshipers at the main Sunni mosque in Baghdad. “Everybody should speak out against such inhumane acts,” said Abdul-Ghafur, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars.
Related articles:
On Iraq, Kurdish struggle
Top U.S. military brass cleared of wrongdoing in Abu Ghraib abuse  
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