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Kurdistan Moving Forward Toward the Kirkuk Referendum

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Kurdistan Moving Forward Toward the Kirkuk Referendum

There is an authority designated in Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitutional that provides a legal and political justification for going ahead with the Kirkuk Referendum. These are the grounds for moving forward by the National Assembly of the Kurdish Autonomous Region towards that end. The legal actions of the Kurdish Regional Government do NOT require any updated statutory law to implement this. The KRG is already fully empowered to proceed. There are many observations of the current status of Kirkuk made in the book: THE FUTURE OF KURDISTAN IN IRAQ, Edited by Brendan O’Leary, John McGarry and Khaled Salih, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2005. Many of the agreements reached have worked toward preserving the legal authority of Kurdistan to move independently towards the implementation of article 140. “In the 2005 parliamentary elections, 99% of them voted for Kurdish nationalist parties, and in the January 2005 referendum, 98% voted for an independent Kurdistan” in an article by Peter Galbraith entitled: THE WAY TO GO IN IRAQ. This appears in the August 16th issue of the New York Review of Books. This demonstrates the Kurdish popular mandate for moving forward with the Kirkuk referendum.

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The inclusion of Article 140 is an affirmation of the proposition that Arabization by Saddam Hussein requires corrective action. One analyst Michael Totten suggested: “The Peshmerga could take Kirkuk militarily any time the order is given. But they’re holding back. The Kurdistan Regional Government says it wants to take the city peacefully and with honor…. South of the Peshmerga line, some towns with Sunni Arab majorities are forcibly evicting Shia Arabs at gunpoint, with rocket launchers, and without compensation. The Kurdistan Regional Government, by contrast, says it will financially compensate everyone asked to leave. Even so, reversing one population transfer with another isn’t right. The Kurds seem to understand this, given that they’re offering to pay damages to the evicted. They might not even care about the city’s ethnic composition if Kirkuk weren’t wracked with violence. But the city is a dangerous place, and the aftershocks of Saddam’s divide-and-rule strategy are still explosive.”

Logistical and demographical issues are being raised now as a substitute for the complete implementation for Article 140. “Sadettin Ergec, a member of the Iraqi parliament and head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, has said that while official statistics put the number of Kurds who were forced to move out of Kirkuk at around 250,000, more than 650,000 Kurds have resettled there since 2003.”   There is no desire to circumvent such matters, but one might fairly raise the issue if the 650,000 are inclusive of solely non-Kirkuk Kurds or if they are family members of former Kirkuk Kurds. Beyond that lies the issue of the impact of Saddam Hussein’s Arabization on others and the fact that reparations are for the entire Kurdish nation and not just those relocated or murdered.  A number of alternatives have been introduced to hinder the implementation of Article 140. The Kurdish Alliance in the Iraqi parliament has rejected a demand by the main Sunni bloc in the Iraqi parliament to delay the implementation of Article 140 to after the deadline that has been set for it. They have expressed their proposal of making Kirkuk into a federal state in Iraq.”

At the same time, actions have also been taken to negate the impact of returning Kurds to Kirkuk and to exclude them from the referendum process. “Many victims of Saddam's ethnic cleansing campaign sought to return to the region, only to be prevented by U.S. authorities. Many remain in tent-city limbo. Article 58 of the March 8, 2004 Transitional Administrative Law sought to settle disputes in Kirkuk by means of an Iraqi Property Claims Commission and "other relevant bodies." In practice, however, successive Iraqi governments have done little, creating suspicion among many Iraqi Kurds as to the central government's intentions. The uncertainty over Kirkuk's status has impeded local development and sidelined the issue of refugee resettlement.”  “Until the December 2007 referendum, which the U.N. has the expertise to organize, it will be impossible to know whether local residents wish Kirkuk to be absorbed into the Kurdistan Regional Government. Many Kurds do, but others are afraid of being pushed aside by established patronage networks and political machines imposed from outside the city.”   It is clear that no resolution exists if established Constitutional mechanisms are not respected by all parties involved and the results of the referendum must be validated and codified for the future. This goes beyond issues of Kurdish dislocations and the intent of Article 140 is not simply to give people back their houses. The consistency of approach by the KRG illuminates intentions, motivations and aspirations for the future for all peoples in the region. To protect the integrity of the referendum 6000 troops have been sent to Kirkuk by the Kurdistan Region Guard.

The Kurdish Regional Government has worked within the institutional framework of the Iraqi Constitutional process from the beginning. It has neither provoked any particular sect or political organization of Iraq nor has it attempted to undermine the sovereignty of the existing government. The promise of the Kurdish Regional Government is stated unequivocally:

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 Relations with Federal Iraq
The KRG will make every effort to put in place a democratic federal system in Iraq, based on agreement and respect for all nationalities and religions. It therefore supports democratic consensus in the political process.
- Recover Kirkuk and other areas peacefully through the democratic process and rule of law
- Support the establishment of other federal regions in Iraq
- Implement constitutional articles that make Kurdish the second official language in Iraq
- Implement provisions within the constitution regarding the Iraqi budget
- Organize KRG offices abroad within the framework of the Iraqi constitution
- Fight terrorism and violence in any form
- Work shoulder-to-shoulder to bring peace and stability
- Work to rebuild and develop Iraq”  

It does so for the benefit of the Kurdish nation in an effort to peacefully resolve conflicts and to present itself as a responsible party in the region. It is fully within its rights to establish fair and just parameters in regards to the rights and authority of the KRG and to be empowered as all governments in the world with duly delegated authority. President Barzani of the Kurdish Autonomous Region has not ruled out other options if the right of referendum is denied to the people of Kirkuk to determine its disposition..

It is clear that some governments in the region, Turkey among them, are actively engaging in an effort to sabotage the implementation of Article 140. It goes without saying that  such governments, like Turkey, have NO authority to represent Turkmen in Kirkuk and have no legal entitlement to intervene in the affairs of southern Kurdistan. Likewise, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a party that is represented under the existing body of law under the Transitional Authority of Iraq.

At issue is whether the Kurdish nation is truly recognized by the international community of nations, and whether it is truly empowered to act as designated in the Iraqi Constitution. If Constitutional law is not a valid criterion for a process to determine the legal integration of Kirkuk, one has to wonder what the status of ANY issue affecting and/or falling under the jurisdiction of the Kurdish Regional Government and its National Assembly is to be. This also includes matters affecting the territorial integrity of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, the Kurdistan Region Guard and the legal rights and Constitutional authority of any governmental entity representing Kurds. If the goal is to deprive the Kurdish nation of political power to establish its own government and negate any authority it may be designated to have under the Iraqi Constitution, this is surely the way to go about it. If that is the case, then, it is surely the prerogative of the Kurdish nation to separate itself in such a manner as to establish and defend its own national sovereignty and territorial integrity. No occupying army or interim Constitution can authorize others to negate the right to representation or the right to establish a government that is fully empowered to act in behalf of the people.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

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Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.


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Martin Zehr is an American political writer in the San Francisco area. He spent 8 years working as a volunteer water planner for the Middle Rio Grande region. His article on the Kirkuk Referendum has been printed by the Kurdish Regional Government, Another article was reprinted in its entirety by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) He is a Contributing Writer to Kurdish Aspect more...)

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