Jan 18, 2008

Conference held in Venice on the Future of Kirkuk

UNPO participated in a conference in the Italian city of Venice to discuss the future of the culturally diverse Iraqi city, Kirkuk

  No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) and the International Alliance for Justice (IAJ) organised a Conference on “DiverCities - Mixed Cities and Disputed Areas: Local Approaches to Federal Democracy” in Venice, Italy, from 18‑22 December 2007. 

The Conference provided a forum within which senior Iraqi decision-makers were able to discuss specific policies which could support the management of mixed areas and cities, like the city of Kirkuk, to provide for the concrete needs of diverse communities in their every-day lives, while still preserving and encouraging diversity. 

More than 40 high-level decision-makers from Iraq representing the leadership of all national, regional and local parties involved in the resolution of the matter of Kirkuk and other disputed areas attended the Conference, including numerous Ministers and Members of Parliament at federal and regional level, Governors of disputed provinces, provincial councillors, political leaders, and the representatives of the relevant communities.

Participants also included experts from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, India, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Switzerland, as well as Marino Busdachin, General Secretary of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), Ugo Intini, the Italian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gianludovico De Martino, Head of Italy’s Task Force Iraq, General Salvatore Carrara and Maurizio Melani, Italy’s Ambassador to Iraq.


The Conference was organised in the framework of NPWJ’s program supporting the federal process in Iraq and sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has already achieved significant results with two seminars on “Practical Federalism In Iraq” in Venice on 18-25 July 2006 and in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan Iraq, on 10-15 July 2007, and with the Conference on “The Role of the Second Chamber in Federal and Devolved Democracies” at the Italian Senate in Rome on 26‑27 September 2007, all organised by No Peace Without Justice and the International Alliance for Justice.  

Background to the Conference:

Current Iraqi authorities have inherited a complex state of affairs, particularly in mixed areas or cities, such as Kirkuk, whose administrative attribution has yet to be settled. Historically, Iraq is home to a number of ancient communities, rich in culture and tradition. Intermixing between these communities has always been a characteristic of Iraqi society, but recent Ba’ath policies of ‘demographic manipulation’, including deportation, ethnic cleansing, and administrative reorganisation, has upset these historical balances. As a result, there remain a number of territories within Iraq without a clear place in the federal system.

The Iraqi Constitution through its Article 140 sets out a framework within which the initial question of status was to be addressed and completed no later than 31 December 2007. Unfortunately, the issues were not resolved in time to meet this deadline. The framework foresees a so-called “normalisation” process, in which population will be returning to their area of origin, followed by a census and a referendum, in which residents will be asked to determine of which region or province their area should be part. Both the “normalisation” process and the resolution of the issue of status are only one part of the overall picture.

Regardless of the outcome, Iraq’s political and administrative authorities and civic and community leaders will still need to address the realities of living in mixed cities and provide for the needs of all its residents, including the provision of every-day public services and utilities.

Discussions during the Conference:

To benefit from the experiences of other mixed cities and what has or has not worked in various contexts, the Conference provided for the exchange and sharing of experiences among Iraqi and non-Iraqi participants, promoting the knowledge and consolidation of practices that have been successfully applied elsewhere. Such instruments and policies must be able to mitigate the risk of polarisation by providing a framework for long-term stability on the basis of equality, fairness, and the rule of law. The structure of the Conference reflected the need to discuss both the broader issues relating to the management of diversity and those associated specifically with the implementation of Article 140.

The first two sessions therefore addressed current developments in the execution of Article 140 and focused specifically on the ‘normalisation’ process. The discussion raised a number of arguments both critical and in support of Article 140. Those speaking against the Article argue that much of the terminology is ill-defined and that the content of the referendum has not been set, that the unstable security situation would make a free and fair referendum near impossible, and that the ‘normalisation’ process will take far longer than anticipated.

Those defending the Article highlighted the positive work to date, but agreed that the ‘normalisation’ has been bogged down by the sheer logistics of dealing with large amounts of compensation and property claims. 

The third session was dedicated to contributions from Iraqi officials concerning diversity in general in Iraq, going beyond Kirkuk and Article 140, whilst the fourth added weight to this discussion by highlighting cases of managing diversity elsewhere in the world. Amongst case studies put forward were India and Canada, where multiculturalism and minority rights foster a sense of ‘unity in diversity’, and Northern Ireland, where similar sectarian violence came to an end through a strong commitment to compromise. Marino Busdachin, General Secretary of UNPO, made significant contributions to this discussion by analysing the system of governance in Trieste, Sud Tirol, and Corsica.

In all these cases, diversity was managed through a community orientated approach, creating smaller political units that are able to cater to the needs of the community more effectively than more centralised, top-heavy administrations. A key factor in the stability of these regions is the strengthening and support of local economies, fostering fiscal independence. It was argued by Mr. Busdachin that such an approach could also be applied to Kirkuk. 

The last two sessions returned to the issue of Kirkuk and Article 140, reassessing the situation in the light of previous discussions.



As a first point, it was generally agreed upon that every situation is unique, and that no single model can be applied. The case of Kirkuk and Iraq has taken place in a specific context, with the sudden and complete collapse of government and a rapid creation of a federal system. Despite differing historical contexts, communities with high levels of diversity all share some common features that need to be born in mind when discussing Kirkuk. The future of Kirkuk must be based upon compromise, local community orientated governance, and the inclusion of ordinary citizens in the process.    

 Full Text of Final Communiqué (adopted 22 December 2007):

  Upon the invitation of Mr Bakhtiar Amin of the International Alliance for Justice, and of No Peace Without Justice, in cooperation with the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Kurdistan National Assembly–Iraq, and with the support of the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, an International Conference on Mixed Cities and Disputed Areas was convened on 18-22 December 2007 in the historic and auspicious surroundings of the city of Venice.  

The Conference gathered Deputy Speakers and Members of both the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Kurdistan National Assembly, representatives of their various political groupings, Governors, and representatives of Provincial and City administrations in Iraq, together with experts and scholars from diverse and disputed areas around the world.   

The Conference built on the solid foundations of the outcomes of previous discussions on Practical Federalism in Iraq, held in Venice on 18 – 26 July 2006, in Erbil, Kurdistan–Iraq on 10-16 July 2007, and in Rome on 26-27 September 2007, also convened by the International Alliance for Justice and by No Peace Without Justice.   

Discussions were conducted in a spirit of mutual respect, objective analysis, dialogue and friendliness, and were underpinned by a shared commitment to the best interests of Iraq as a whole, with a view to discussing and resolving complex issues by taking into account the widest variety of positions and interests. 

Within this constructive atmosphere, participants discussed many of the problems associated with settling the political status of disputed areas, and considered how the foundations for long-term stability and prosperity might be built through the careful and committed management of local diversity.  

As a result of the discussions, and having considered the opinions submitted and presented, participants agreed upon the following recommendations:  

1.The existence of Diversity -ethnic, religious, of sect, or of ideas- needs to be believed in and respected.  

2.The problem in Kirkuk needs to be acknowledged as a self-determination issue, as a real problem that requires a solution based on democratic principles, the respect of human rights, and loyalty to Iraq under a democratic, federal and united system.

3.The problem must be analysed in its sub-components, and an Iraqi solution must be found that can satisfy all parties.   

4. The solution must be based on dialogue, together with commitment to national peace, rejection violence and intimidation in all their forms, and resort to peaceful methods of conflict resolution: these principles should not be deviated from under any circumstance. 

5. Iraqi political forces and groups should meet their historical responsibility to achieve a genuine political agreement that guarantees rights for all components of the Iraqi people with its different religions and ethnicities. 

6. The administration of Kirkuk should be jointly administered by the different ethnicities of the city; Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Chaldo-Assyrians  

7. Awareness should be expanded in the fields of tolerance and of federalism, focusing on the realities of the present, whilst past injustice should be remembered as lessons in order to prevent a reoccurrence of violations of the past, and promote the resolution of conflict and peaceful coexistence.

8. Suitable methods must be found to strengthen friendship and relations between different ethnicities in disputed areas, fostering a spirit of tolerance and coexistence.  

9. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution should be recognised as a whole, in both its paragraphs.  

10. Greater transparency should be emphasized in resolving Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution.  

11. Article 140 is the basis in dealing with the problem, and providing an appropriate political climate is the means of achieving a solution pursuant to this article.  

12. All detainees by whomever they are being held, who have not been found guilty of any charge should be released. All efforts should be made to involved former detainees to be advocates of love, peace and tolerance in their communities. 

13.The normalisation process should continue and the issues related to it should not be exploited for political purposes. 

14.The Property Claims Commission should be activated and provided with the necessary financial resources, judges, and establish a special Commission on Discrimination.  

15.Demographic changes intended to create new realities on the ground should be prevented, while proceeding with the fair treatment for previous demographic changes.  

16.All abuses that have taken place after 9 April 2003 throughout Iraq should be properly addressed and submitted to the appropriate legal processes. 

17.The situation in areas included in Article 140 should be taken into account, and no efforts should be made to change the balance of powers in these areas by arming civilians.  

18.The role of economic factors should be emphasized, and the living standards of the citizens of Diverse Areas should be improved by providing employment opportunities on an equal basis for all components of society.

19.A special budget allocation should be established, with special consideration and priority to Diverse Areas.

20.The percentage of Cheldo-Assyrian members in the Governorate Councils and the Parliament should be increased, so compensate for events occurred in the previous elections. 

21.Donor countries, the United Nations, and other international humanitarian organisations should contribute to the reconstruction and regeneration of the city of Kirkuk and other areas covered by article 140.   

22.An Iraqi solution, achieved in compliance with the Constitution, with the technical support of UNAMI, should be politically supported and guaranteed by the international community, if so requested by the Government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government and all relevant Iraqi parties.

Links: Audio (in Italian)Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4 No Peace Without Justice