Iraqi oil law and tribal councils add to
tensions with Kurds
Rejection of Oil Law and Move to Create Tribal
Councils Add to Tensions With Kurds.
October 28, 2008
— Tensions between Kurdistan and the central
government of Iraq continued to bubble Monday. A
parliamentary committee rejected a new draft of an
oil law, and Kurdish politicians denounced the
government's effort to create semi-tribal councils
as a counterweight to Kurdish political power in
At least two international organizations are working
on reports on the troubles between Iraq's Kurds and
Arabs. The United Nations is expected to release its
report in the next month or two.
The International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental
organization based in Brussels that seeks to prevent
and resolve deadly conflicts,www.ekurd.net
will issue its report on
Tuesday. Both try to set out a strategy to resolve a
web of interlinked disputes that threaten to set
Kurds and Arabs against each other along the border
of Iraq's Kurdistan region.
At issue are fundamental questions of territorial
rights: redrawing the borders of the Kurdish region,
the rights of that region versus those of the
central government and, not least, the region's
right to develop its own oil resources.
"Kurds are very frustrated and are taking revenge by
holding up other legislation in Baghdad," said Joost
Hiltermann, a senior analyst of the Middle East for
the International Crisis Group.
In the past year relations between the Kurds and the
central government have deteriorated. A December
2007 deadline passed without the enactment of an
article of the Iraqi Constitution meant to redress
the Kurds' sense of betrayal by the government of
Saddam Hussein. In addition to persecuting the
forced them to flee Kirkuk, the center of an
oil-rich area, and moved in Arabs to take their
The measure, Article 140, proposes a three-part
remedy: enabling Kurds to return to Kirkuk,
conducting a census, and then holding a referendum
in which people who live in Kirkuk will vote on
whether the city should become part of Iraqi
Kurdistan. Many Kurds have returned, but there has
been no census or referendum.
A delay of the referendum was brokered by the United
Nations, but Kurds have been frustrated by the lack
of any effort to set a new deadline.
It has become an article of faith for Kurdish
political leaders that the Kurds have a right to
fold Kirkuk into Kurdistan. The Kurds are also
seeking to maintain influence over a number of other
disputed areas along their border with the rest of
The central government has long opposed Kurdistan's
claims to Kirkuk because it wants access to the
region's oil wealth, and also because historically
many other peoples have lived there: Turkmens, Arabs
and Christians, many of them Assyrians.
The Kurds' most recent tactic to push the central
government to work with them has been to block
needed legislation, slowing down passage of a
provincial powers law, the election law and the oil
law, according to the International Crisis Group
The group recommends that the Iraqi central
government allow the Kurds to develop and sell their
oil through a pipeline to Turkey, giving them some
economic independence from Baghdad. In exchange, the
Kurds would defer their claim to Kirkuk and accept a
power-sharing agreement in which the top provincial
slots and the provincial council seats would be
equally divided among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens and
a small number of seats would go to Christians. Such
an arrangement is acceptable to Arabs, Turkmens and
"This proposal is a grand bargain," said Hiltermann,
the crisis group analyst. "This is what the Iraqi
government has to give, and they would be giving
relatively little, and this is what the Kurds have
to give." It would also ask that Turkey allow the
Kurds to export their oil through its territory.
On Monday, the Kurds announced that they had
rejected efforts by the government to form tribal
support councils in places that include Kirkuk and
Khanaqin, a predominantly Kurdish city, and
neighboring Jalawla. The councils are similar to the
Awakening groups formed by the American military to
fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia,www.ekurd.net
insurgent group that American intelligence says is
led by foreigners. The armed Awakening groups, whose
stated goal is protection of their local areas, have
also become a political force in some places.
One reason the Kurds reject them is that they fear
that the councils may restrict Kurdish influence.
"The areas where Mr. Maliki is forming these support
councils are disputed areas," said Jabbar Yawer, the
leader of the ministry governing the Kurdish pesh
merga, a regional force partly absorbed into the
Iraqi Army. The term "disputed area" describes areas
that Kurdistan claims, but that the central
government says are part of the rest of Iraq.
"There is no security vacuum in these areas," Yawer
said. "The police and army are there and they can
Reporting was contributed by Mohammed Hussein, Abeer
Mohammed and Tareq Maher from Baghdad, and Iraqi
employees of The New York Times from Kurdistan,
Kirkuk and Tikrit.
Copyright, respective author or news agency,
Kirkuk city is historically a Kurdish city and it
lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous
region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds
and minority of Arabs, Christians and
Turkmen. lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds
have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk,
which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem."
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to
the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city
and other disputed areas.
The article also calls for conducting a census to be
followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants
decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed
to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having
it as an independent province.
The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up
their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the
city and the region's oil industry.
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