Jun 22, 2008

Iraq: Defining Alternatives to the Kerkuk Problem

Iraq: Defining Alternatives to the Kerkuk Problem


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Kerkuk Problem and Article 140: Defining Alternatives

The views of Kerkuk’s Turkmen and Arabs

European Parliament, Brussels

- 23 June 2008 -

Iraq is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, home to numerous cultures and communities. Northern Iraq in particular is highly mixed, making it difficult to draw any boundaries on the basis of ethnicity. Even Erbil, which has now been made the Capital of the Kurdish region, is a highly mixed Turkmen-Kurdish-Assyrian city, whereas it was an almost purely Turkmen city in the turn of 20th century. The one million mainly Arabic Mosul and the geopolitically important Kerkuk region are now claimed and controlled mainly by the Kurdish political authorities. Institutions of ethnically based demarcation in this region are highly hazardous and threaten the future of the Iraqi state and the regional peace.

The huge casualties and the catastrophic tragedies since the occupation of Iraq demand significant awareness when attempting to solve problems. No doubt that the Kerkuk case is considered one of the major problems. A fair solution of the Kerkuk problem is important in the context of the equity, human rights and the principle of democracy, which are requested to be instituted in the Middle East. Durable solutions, which carry long lasting stability in the volatile region as the Middle East, should also be considered when the Kerkuk problem is investigated.

Little consensus has however emerged by the Iraqi constitution’s “normalization”, “census” and “referendum” to solve the problem, which instead has further complicated the democratic processes aimed at safeguarding future stability.

The complexity of the Kerkuk case has increasingly become more evident, particularly when the referendum, which is stated in the Iraqi constitution, could not be realized at the requested date - end 2007. In early 2008, the case was given to the United Nations, which still could not map the way of a solution. The European Union can be considered an important arbitrator of a solution.

Kerkuk is a city rich with both oil and history. The Iraqi Turkmen, in particular stand opposed to the city’s inclusion in a Kurdish region, drawing attention to the multi-ethnic nature of the city. They are calling for greater dialogue between all parties involved, including the Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds and Turkmen. This conference was convened to discuss alternative strategies for the future of Kerkuk. It brought together senior Iraqi government ministers, Kerkuk council officials and representatives of the ethnic groups in Northern Iraq to discuss the issues at stake and to try and elaborate on possible solutions to the situation as it stands. 

Participation included Ana Maria Gomes, MEP, Parliament’s Rapporteur on Iraq; Marino Busdachin, UNPO General Secretary; Ali M. Sadeq, member of Kerkuk City Council; Yako Michael Jajjo, Foundation Assyria; Mohammed Kh. Nasef, Member of Kerkuk City Council, member of article 140 committee; Mohammed Mahdi  Ameen, Member of the Iraqi Parliament (represented by Mohammed Koja); Muzaffer Arslan, Advisor on Turkmen Affairs to the President of Iraq H.E. Jalal Talabani; Rakan S. Ali, member of Kerkuk City Council; (represented by Akram al-Ubaidi) Sheth Jerjis, SOITM Chairman; Tahsin Mohammed Ali Wali, Member of Kerkuk City Council, member of article 140 committee.

Opening the conference, Dr. Sheth Jerijis, Chairman of the SOITM, introduced participants to the background of the Kerkuk problems, outlining the decades of marginalization which had been measured out to the Turkmen of Iraq under successive regimes since the country achieved independence in 1932.  Many of Dr. Jerijis' historical illustrations were revisited in later comments by panelists, demonstrating the continuing crucial role of history in influencing the region's political, cultural, and social interactions. 

Ms. Gomes, speaking after visiting Iraq earlier in 2008, emphasized the need for all parties to show a level of pragmatism when examining possible solutions to the problems of Kerkuk's governance, urging "all the parties in this dispute to accept the UN resolution....[and not to]...endanger this sensitive process" when "a possible breakthrough seems to be close". 

Ms. Erin Normile, speaking on behalf of Mr. Marino Busdachin, General Secretary of UNPO, posited the need for a regional solution similar to that found in Catalonia or the South Tirol which has been shown to be effective.  The European Union moreover had shown itself to be an important interlocutor which could draw on the own experience to make a valuable contribution to the resolution of the Kerkuk crisis. This proved to a point taken up by Mr. Muzaffer Arslan, Advisor on Turkmen Affairs to the President of Iraq H.E. Jalal Talabani, in his appeal to the European Union institutions to place greater pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to end their claims to Kerkuk and the presence of Kurdish militias in the city and the surrounding area. 

Opening the debate to the floor revealed the wide opinion roused by the questions of Kerkuk's status, with the history of the city a constant in the deeply held convictions expressed.  Attention was paid however to the need to look beyond the proposed, and twice delayed referendum, and concentrate on finding other solutions to the problems at hand.  The need to avoid blind nationalism was also a point which was raised and that won widespread support from the gathered audience.


Further information can be found in the event's CONFERENCE REPORT.

Note: For more information please contact the SOITM Secretariat, by telephone: +31(0) 24 844 1414, or by e-mail: [email protected]