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[casi-analysis] In our hands - by Nermin Al-Mufti

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In our handsIraq's Kurds are skillfully using their power as a minority to advance their own 
interests, but will the cost be turmoil, asks Nermeen Al-Mufti

 Click to view captionFouad Massum, former speaker of the Interim Parliament and leading member of 
the Kurdish Alliance, checks the seats of the Transitional National Assembly. The assembly held its 
first session on Wednesday without taking a vote on a new government after the parties involved -- 
mainly the Kurdish parties and the Unified Iraqi Alliance -- failed to reach an agreement on its 

The more it changes, the more it stays the same. On an autumn day in 1991, when Baghdad was in a 
desperate situation, its army fractured and its infrastructure in ruins, trying to shore up its 
power, the regime tried to woo the Kurds. A news conference was held in which Tareq Aziz presented 
a white paper to Masoud Barzani, asking him to write his conditions for the resuscitation of 
self-government in the Kurdish area. Barzani demurred, saying he had to consult with Talabani. 
Barzani then went back to Arbil, never to return. Today, Kurdish negotiators are back in Arbil for 
consultations. This time they will definitely return to Baghdad, bearing conditions they seek to 
impose from a position of power. And the rest of the country must be grateful. Was it not the Kurds 
who helped the Americans "liberate" the country after all?

The Kurds have made many sacrifices and suffered immense injustice. This much is not in doubt. But 
the Kurds were not the only victims of the regime's pogroms. The Turkoman village of Kirkuk is a 
case in point. In 1980, the old regime killed the men of that village, forcing the women and 
children to flee. Their land was taken over by Arab clans living nearby. The latter have no wish to 
return that land to its rightful owners.

The only difference between the Kurds and the Turkomans, or any other section of Iraqis for that 
matter, is that the former have learned to play to the media. Halabja is a household word but few 
around the world know much about the suffering of other Iraqis. After two years of occupation, 
terror, robbery and unemployment, most Iraqis have come to the conclusion that the Americans did 
not come to the country to defend human rights or uphold democracy. Most Iraqis are having second 
thoughts about those who helped the occupation forces, be they Kurds or "Arabs" and who came with 
the occupation tanks.

The Iraqi elections have completed the job the disbanded Interim Governing Council and US Civil 
Administrator Paul Bremer had started. The elections have reinforced sectarianism, fortified 
ethnicity, and set in motion power quotas. Iraqi officials are trying to deny that power quotas are 
at the crux of Iraqi politics. But with the Kurds demanding a top post and at least two influential 
ministries, the facts speak for themselves.

The date set by Burham Saleh, the Kurdish deputy prime minister known to be close to Talabani, was 
no coincidence. After widespread criticism of the delay in convening the National Assembly, Saleh 
finally set a date. The National Assembly is to meet on 16 March, the same day in which Halabja was 
attacked with chemical weapons in 1980. Again, the Kurds have their fingerprints all over Iraqi 

According to Assad Ali, professor at Mustansariya University, "the Iraqis do not mind having a 
Kurdish president, so long as he is committed to Iraq and to national rights. But when Kurds 
threaten to secede unless they get Kirkuk and a top post, one has to think again. The Iraqis should 
all read the joint message sent by Talabani and Barzani to President Bush after the UN Security 
Council passed Resolution 1534. The two men told Bush that the future of US forces in Iraq is 
hinged upon the Kurds having their way. Therefore, a Kurdish president will not try to liberate 
Iraq. Turmoil will continue. And it will be hard for the reconstruction to begin because of the 
security conditions."

Osama Khalil, also professor at Mustansariya University, has a different viewpoint. "Let the Kurds 
impose their conditions. What matters is that the Iraqis, through their participation in the 
elections and through other actions, are aware of their priorities. The elected government is just 
transitional. Another round of elections will be held in December, during which the Iraqis will 
insist on their rights. This is why the Kurds want Kirkuk now."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Kurdish academic says that Kurds are standing tough on Kirkuk 
and other issues because they know they have lost the sympathy of the Iraqis, the sympathy they 
used to have before the occupation. The academic wonders at Barzani's insistence that the Iraqi 
flag be changed. Was not that the same flag that the Iraqi army was flying in August 1996, when 
Barzani asked Saddam Hussein to save him from Talabani's "occupation"? he asks.

The Iraqis differ on many things, but are united in disenchantment as they see security deteriorate 
while politicians squabble over posts. Even before the National Assembly was to hold its first 
meeting, two of the people who gained seats as part of the Alliance list withdrew to join a 
"future" opposition bloc. Abdul-Karim Al-Mehmedawi, leader of Hizbullah-Iraq, and Ali Al-Yosha did 
so in protest against the confinement of consultations to a 21-member committee. Hamid Maguid 
Moussa, secretary- general of the Iraqi Communist Party (the party won two seats in the National 
Assembly) is also opposed to the exclusion of some parties from the ongoing talks on key government 

KIRKUK is quieter than other Iraqi areas, although its dominantly Arab neighbourhoods are 
practically part of the "Sunni triangle" and have witnessed numerous attacks against oil 
installations. But the calm is little more than a veneer.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Saadeddin Arkej, chairman of the Iraqi Turkoman Council, said: "The 
naturalisation of the conditions in Kirkuk is not within the power of the transitional government. 
It is something only the elected government is empowered to do by virtue of clauses A and B2 of 
Article 58 of the administrative law of the interim period -- the law which will remain in effect 
until the Constitution is written and goes into effect -- and also Clause C of Article 3 concerning 
the permanent Constitution. We have called on the officials, through official statements, not to 
form a committee to naturalise the conditions in Kirkuk until after the permanent Constitution is 
in place... But there are signs that Kirkuk has become a bone of contention among the winning 
political blocs. If concessions were to continue and if the future of Kirkuk is decided in 
violation of the administrative law, this would cause instability in the city and across Iraq and 
lead to unforeseeable

I remind Arkej that the Kurds cite a census from the 1920s to prove Kirkuk was dominantly Kurdish. 
"This data is incorrect. According to the accurate 1947 census and the officially approved 1957 
census, the majority were Turkoman. But under the current circumstances, everything is possible, 
including tampering with old statistics," he said.

Arkej, like most Turkomans, sees Kirkuk as an Iraqi city; a city that should remain a symbol of 
fraternity, that should live under the Iraqi flag and give its wealth to the entire nation. But 
developments in Kirkuk suggest otherwise. The Kurdish governor has ordered all official 
correspondence to be conducted in both Kurdish and Arabic. Traffic signs and street names and 
government department names have been re-done in Arabic and Kurdish. The Kurdish national flag of 
Mahabad is provocatively raised in numerous parts of the town.

The Kurds see Kirkuk as the "heart of Kurdistan", the ultimate prize. The Arabs of Kirkuk, most of 
whom Sunnis, have assumed a low profile, waiting to see how things unfold. Arkej says he has no 
knowledge of what goes on in the talks between the Alliance and the Kurds.

Meanwhile, Kurdish families have arrived in Kirkuk from other parts of the country. They stay in 
makeshift houses on vacant plots, in the homes of former army officers, and in army barracks. Many 
live off petty trade, selling goods on the pavement in the market area. Some have taken to begging. 
Some are said to be destroying tombstones in Turkoman cemeteries in an attempt to sabotage the past.

Kirkuk is not the only problem. Both key Kurdish leaders want the Peshmerga -- the Kurdish militia 
-- to remain active in order to deter any attack against their areas. The Kurds refuse to have 
Iraqi troops deployed in their areas unless such deployment is sanctioned by an independent Kurdish 
parliament. Meanwhile, many of the Peshmerga have enrolled in the newly created police, National 
Guard and army services. The Kurds have opened party centres in practically every Iraqi city, and 
they demand a 25 per cent share of the national budget. According to Jawad Al-Malki, member of the 
Daawa Party Political Bureau, Al- Jaafari promised not to endorse Talabani's presidential 
nomination unless the Sunnis, who boycotted the elections, agree to that nomination.

The Kurdish insistence on federalism is having repercussions throughout the country. 
Representatives of three overwhelmingly Shia governorates in the south (Amarah, Basra, Nasiriya) 
have just formed a general secretariat for the southern areas under the chairmanship of the Basra 
governor. They are planning a referendum on that move, but say -- just as the Kurds do -- that 
secession is not on their agenda.

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