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 Iraqi oil law and tribal councils add to tensions with Kurds 

 Source : IHT
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Iraqi oil law and tribal councils add to tensions with Kurds  28.10.2008 

Rejection of Oil Law and Move to Create Tribal Councils Add to Tensions With Kurds.

October 28, 2008

BAGHDAD, Tensions between Kurdistan and the central government of Iraq continued to bubble Monday. A parliamentary committee rejected a new draft of an oil law, and Kurdish politicians denounced the government's effort to create semi-tribal councils as a counterweight to Kurdish political power in Kirkuk.

At least two international organizations are working on reports on the troubles between Iraq's Kurds and Arabs. The United Nations is expected to release its report in the next month or two.

The International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization based in Brussels that seeks to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts, will issue its report on Tuesday. Both try to set out a strategy to resolve a web of interlinked disputes that threaten to set Kurds and Arabs against each other along the border of Iraq's Kurdistan region.

At issue are fundamental questions of territorial rights: redrawing the borders of the Kurdish region, the rights of that region versus those of the central government and, not least, the region's right to develop its own oil resources.

"Kurds are very frustrated and are taking revenge by holding up other legislation in Baghdad," said Joost Hiltermann, a senior analyst of the Middle East for the International Crisis Group.

In the past year relations between the Kurds and the central government have deteriorated. A December 2007 deadline passed without the enactment of an article of the Iraqi Constitution meant to redress the Kurds' sense of betrayal by the government of Saddam Hussein. In addition to persecuting the Kurds, Saddam's government forced them to flee Kirkuk, the center of an oil-rich area, and moved in Arabs to take their place.

The measure, Article 140, proposes a three-part remedy: enabling Kurds to return to Kirkuk, conducting a census, and then holding a referendum in which people who live in Kirkuk will vote on whether the city should become part of Iraqi Kurdistan. Many Kurds have returned, but there has been no census or referendum.

A delay of the referendum was brokered by the United Nations, but Kurds have been frustrated by the lack of any effort to set a new deadline.

It has become an article of faith for Kurdish political leaders that the Kurds have a right to fold Kirkuk into Kurdistan. The Kurds are also seeking to maintain influence over a number of other disputed areas along their border with the rest of Iraq.

The central government has long opposed Kurdistan's claims to Kirkuk because it wants access to the region's oil wealth, and also because historically many other peoples have lived there: Turkmens, Arabs and Christians, many of them Assyrians.

The Kurds' most recent tactic to push the central government to work with them has been to block needed legislation, slowing down passage of a provincial powers law, the election law and the oil law, according to the International Crisis Group report.

The group recommends that the Iraqi central government allow the Kurds to develop and sell their oil through a pipeline to Turkey, giving them some economic independence from Baghdad. In exchange, the Kurds would defer their claim to Kirkuk and accept a power-sharing agreement in which the top provincial slots and the provincial council seats would be equally divided among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens and a small number of seats would go to Christians. Such an arrangement is acceptable to Arabs, Turkmens and Christians.

"This proposal is a grand bargain," said Hiltermann, the crisis group analyst. "This is what the Iraqi government has to give, and they would be giving relatively little, and this is what the Kurds have to give." It would also ask that Turkey allow the Kurds to export their oil through its territory.

On Monday, the Kurds announced that they had rejected efforts by the government to form tribal support councils in places that include Kirkuk and Khanaqin, a predominantly Kurdish city, and neighboring Jalawla. The councils are similar to the Awakening groups formed by the American military to fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is led by foreigners. The armed Awakening groups, whose stated goal is protection of their local areas, have also become a political force in some places.

One reason the Kurds reject them is that they fear that the councils may restrict Kurdish influence. "The areas where Mr. Maliki is forming these support councils are disputed areas," said Jabbar Yawer, the leader of the ministry governing the Kurdish pesh merga, a regional force partly absorbed into the Iraqi Army. The term "disputed area" describes areas that Kurdistan claims, but that the central government says are part of the rest of Iraq.

"There is no security vacuum in these areas," Yawer said. "The police and army are there and they can preserve security."

Reporting was contributed by Mohammed Hussein, Abeer Mohammed and Tareq Maher from Baghdad, and Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Kurdistan, Kirkuk and Tikrit.

Copyright, respective author or news agency, iht com

* Kirkuk city is historically a Kurdish city and it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs,
Christians and Turkmen. lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem."

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas.

The article also calls for conducting a census to be followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having it as an independent province.

The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry.    


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