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 Arab politicians in Kirkuk reject forming Sunni region

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Arab politicians in Kirkuk reject forming Sunni region  9.7.2011  
By Wladimir van Wilgenburg

July 9, 2011

KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region, — Arab politicians in Kirkuk have rejected the concept of a Sunni region, a controversial idea floated by Iraqi parliamentary speaker Usama al-Nujaifi lat month.

Arab leader Ahmed Hameed al-Obeidi responded to the statement in a press conference last week, saying, “The establishment of sectarian and racist regions is totally rejected.”

Obeidi, head of the Arab Current Project in Kirkuk, said that 12 Arab parties rejected Nujaifi’s suggestion, which was made during an interview with US-funded Al-Hurra TV in Washington.

The disputed province of Kirkuk, 280 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, is one of the country’s most ethnically and religiously diverse regions that is claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen who are vying for control of the oil-rich governorate.                  

Arab politician Ahmed Hameed al-Obeidi. The Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state. Photo by Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Hussein Ali Salih, the City Council Chairman in Kirkuk’s Arab Hawija district, said in a statement that creating a special region is out of the question and would be a step toward dividing the country, the national broadcaster Radio Sawa reported.

Furthermore, an Arab member of Kirkuk’s provincial council, Sheikh Burhan Mezher al-Assi, told Radio Sawa that the media exaggerated the issue and stressed that Arabs in Kirkuk have a common vision to unite the country. He noted that all Iraqis -- including Sunnis -- are frustrated about the political process.

The former Deputy Governor of Kirkuk, Ismail al-Hadidi, told Rudaw that most members in Iraqiya, which includes the country’s most prominent Sunni Arab leaders, are opposed to creating a Sunni region. He suggested that Nujaifi was trying to express “the Sunni people’s belief that there is too much pressure on them.”

Hadidi said he believes Americans support a Sunni region and that federalism is part of the constitution, noting that US Vice-President Joe Bidenide had proposed dividiong Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions.

“But members of parliament didn’t share this idea … or put it into action. They just don’t care about it,” he maintained.

Iraqi Kurdistan is the country’s only semi-autonomous region. Nujaifi recently revealed that the Shia-majority governorates of Wasit and Basra had asked for a referendum to form a region, but Baghdad has yet to address the issue.

Some Assyrian parties also called for forming a semi-independent district in Nineveh province to protect the province’s minorities against attacks. As a small minority, however, they were not able to garner enough support for the proposal in parliament and were met with opposition by Arab parties in Nineveh, though the idea was backed by Kurdish parties.

Hadadi and Xidir Hamdani, an Arab who works with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Kirkuk, said that despite the denials, Arabs and other groups want a province to self-administer.

“Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk province support the idea of a separate governorate with a special status,” Hadidi said.

Independent Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman told Radio Sawa that the statements reflect the gap between Sunni politicians and Shias. He argued that the constituion needs to be studied and an agreement must be made to resolve the differences.

AFP reported that Nujaifi defended his statements after Arab politicians accused him of wanting to divide Iraq. He said Iraqis have the right to create autonomous regions if the central government is not responding to citizens' needs. But he denied claims that he wants to create a region solely for Sunnis or any other group on a sectarian basis.

The Sunni-backed Iraqiya list failed to form the government despite narrowly winning the plurality of seats in the 2010 parliamentary election, a major point of frustration for Sunnis. The government is led by Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his State of Law Alliance,
www.ekurd.netthough Iraqiya continues to lobby for more power including demanding that Iraqiya chief Iyad Allawi head up an influential strategic policy council.

Last week, a member of the State of Law alliance said that 52 MPS have made a request to the parliament to hold Nujaifi accountable for his statements.

Separately, Kirkuk’s provincial council also discussed provincial elections in the province, which has not held any local polls since 2005 because of disagreements between the different political parties over who will be allowed to vote in the disputed province. The US and the UN Mission in Iraq, UNAMI, have pushed political parties to hold an election.

Kirkuk has seen an influx of Kurds from outside of Kirkuk, Arab politicians say, while Kurdish politicians claim they were residents of Kirkuk who were expelled by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

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