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Analysis

Kirkuk Governor Election Iraq’s New Contentious Point

Saturday 27 July 2019
Kirkuk Governor Election Iraq’s New Contentious Point

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Alwaght- While Iraq after the defeat of ISIS is returning to the pre-2014 stability and security, levels of political disputes remain between the central government in Baghdad and Kurdistan regional government in the northern Iraq. The main sticking point that remains unsettled between the two since 2003 is the article 140 of the constitution that is related to what is known in the Iraqi politics as the disputed regions, in the center of which is the oil-rich Kirkuk. The disputed regions continue to take the attention of the world media to Iraq.

In the new conditions, picking a new governor to Kirkuk has begun to be a point of contention between the influential actors in the strategic city. Recently, the Sunni Arab residents of the city held protests outside the building of the local government calling for the dissolution of the provincial council and expressing their opposition to the election of the new governor from the Kurds. This brings back Kirkuk to the surface of the Iraqi politics once again. But what is the reason behind the rift over the governor post? And what does each actor seek in the row? To answer these questions, we should first give a picture of the Kirkuk mystery in the general Iraqi politics.

Kirkuk’s mystery in post-2003 Iraq

For several decades, Kirkuk has been recognized as the main lifeline of the Iraqi economy as its oil reserves reach 10 billion barrels, namely 10 present of the total Iraqi oil reserves. Various ethnic groups including Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Assyrians, and Jews make Kirkuk demographically the most important among the 18 Iraqi provinces. Adding to the complexity of the situation in the city is the fact that each of them asserts themselves to be the original owners of Kirkuk based on some evidence and arguments they provide.

The Kurds dub Kirkuk the “al-Quds of Kurdistan” or the “heart of Kurdistan”. Presenting some historical documents, they call themselves the real owners of the city. Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 that toppled the dictator Saddam Hussein, the Kurds pressed for adding the article 140 of the new constitution that calls on the central government to allow Kirkuk to be part of the Kurdish federal region. The Turkmens also presented their own historical proofs arguing that they are the aboriginals of Kirkuk. They argue that they were the rulers of the city under the Ottoman Empire. But the Arabs have gone beyond, even saying that the roots of the Arab race stemmed from this city. The arguments of the three make Kirkuk in the middle of a serious claim case at home.

Regionally and internationally, Kirkuk is important for players like Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US, and even Europe. Such rift makes Kirkuk like a time bomb that its developments could any time cause a crisis. The election of a new governor is also influenced by this reality of the city as it can significantly affect the regional developments and the future of the Erbil-Baghdad ties.

Governor election crisis after October 16, 2017

After 2003 until mid-October 2017, the Kurds were the uncontested rulers of Kirkuk. After October 2017, the central government reached a political and military deal with the Kurds to take control of the significant city, ending 14-year Kurdish domination. Upon the deal, Rakan al-Jabouri, the deputy governor was appointed as acting governor replacing Najmuddin Karim. As a result, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), two main holders of the power in the Kurdish region, went through a serious cleavage over what kind of role the Kurds should take in Kirkuk after central government control of the city. Al-Jabouri served as acting governor for 21 months as the two parties’ disagreement unfolded.

After months of uncertainty, the two parties are said to have recently agreed on a joint candidate for the post. They, the reports say, named Tayeb Jabar of the PUK as the candidate for the job. The Kurds hold 26 out of the total 41 seats of Kirkuk provincial council under Kirkuk Brotherhood Alliance. This means they hold 63 percent of the power and a new session of the provincial council is required for them to easily choose their favorable politician for the post.

When reports about the bipartisan agreement spread, the Arabs of the city took to the streets in protest. Their demands varied from a call to cancel new governor election and also the dissolution of the provincial council in which they only hold 6 seats. They push for a parliamentary bill that will pave the way for dissolving the council to entrust its power to the provincial lawmakers in the parliament to pick the governor.

Kirkuk dispute beyond the ethnic claims 

The significance of Kirkuk to the Iraqi citizens and politicians considered, the question is that can the city’s issues be resolved by an inclusive accord or a parliamentary bill? The fact is that Kirkuk challenges should not be regarded through a demographic lens. That is because essentially the city can be regarded as a small model of a bigger Iraq in which none of the ethnic groups are prepared to compromise their demands.

With this in mind, the election of the new Kirkuk governor should not be regarded from the viewpoint of the Kurds who are the majority in the important city. After all, each of the ethnic groups, based on their specific considerations, ask for at least minimum realization of their demands in the administrative equations of Kirkuk. Thus, neither the Kurds nor the Turkmens nor the Arabs can solely and based on their will manage the Kirkuk issue.

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Iraq Kirkuk Kurds Dispute

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