Just how disputed are “disputed
territories” in Iraq? Time to let a full nationwide
census doing the talking
By Bashdar Ismaeel
December 20, 2012
There is no doubt that the already tenuous relations
between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region reached new
heights in recent weeks. As the Peshmerga and Iraqi
army forces became deeply entrenched, respective
positions hardened and the drums of war beat more
loudly, the fear of a brutal war became a real
possibility with the firing of a single bullet.
Frantic mediation in recent weeks by Iraqi political
figures and the U.S. governmental have somewhat
calmed the situation. Both sides have seemingly
agreed to eventually withdraw troops, with local
security forces to assume responsibility under
committees that are intended to reflect the ethnic
balance on the ground.
With any real sigh of relief quickly dampened by
deep mistrust and lack of a long-term solution,
short-term political arrangements merely buy more
The issue of disputed territories will not go away
or become any easier to resolve the longer that
constitutional articles gather dust on the Iraqi
political shelf. On the contrary, it is becoming
deeper and tenser with each delay.
The agreement to hand security over to local forces
simply passes the problem on. Who should comprise of
the local security forces? How do you determine
ethnic quotas for such forces? Which group should
have more influence over the “disputed areas” based
on their assumed numbers?
The bottom line is that the problem once again
becomes a numbers game. The makeup of local forces
and arriving at this elusive ethnic balance is
continuously based on assumptions and assertions,
not actual facts.
The very foundation of resolving disputed
territories lies in the conducting of a nationwide
census. As the English proverb goes “the proof of
the pudding is in the eating”. A new census in Iraq,
which is a key constitutional provision, was delayed
in 2007, 2009 and twice alone in 2010.
It is time to move away from claims, counter claims
and assumptions and let the facts speak for
themselves. Facts are just that, they are based on a
reality and not on conjecture and help paint a true
picture of the matter at hand.
In most democratic societies a census is a natural
and fundamental exercise that helps governments to
better understand their citizens, improve planning
and to deliver better services to their local
populace. Yet Iraq has shied away from a first full
national census since 1987 with the pretext that it
would inflame security conditions and ethnic and
sectarian passions and would lead to the
polarisation of Iraq. Any census will only confirm
the extent of the polarization of Iraq, Iraq has
been polarized from the moment it was artificially
The truth is that much like the rest of article 140
where the census forms a key part, Baghdad has
failed to implement legal obligations for fear of
the reality that it unravels. There is no
“technical” reason why a census cannot be held, the
Iraqi Ministry of Planning has long trained
thousands of enumerators and laid the basis for such
When in a true democracy can someone pick and choose
what it decides to implement to divert a decision
away from a destined outcome? The real reason for a
lack of implementation of a census is that a true
picture of numbers in Iraq would tip the political
and national landscape in Iraq upside down. In Iraq,
the numbers game is everything. It means power, it
means leverage and above all it ends “dispute”.
The very nature of the word “dispute” is underpinned
by uncertainty and a lack of an official reality.
The outcome is not clear so thus no side can make
true assertions. In reality, a census in Iraq would
mean a de-facto conclusion to all of article 140. If
a census showed a clear Kurdish majority as most
Kurds staunchly believe and that most Arabs fear,
then what will the results of a referendum reveal? A
certainty that such disputed territories would opt
to be annexed to the Kurdistan Region.
This takes the argument a full circle to just how
disputed the “disputed territories” really are and
also to Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani’s decree
this week to no longer refer to such territories as
disputed but instead as “Kurdish areas outside of
the Region”. Ironically, almost five years since the
deadline for article 140 passed,www.ekurd.net
it is still Baghdad that accuses the Kurd of
constitutional violations over their claim to such
territories. If Baghdad really wants to abide by the
constitution, it should have the courage to hold a
comprehensive census and show both Iraq and the
international community the clear results.
A census with a true demographic picture of Iraq
would also end annual disputes over the proportion
of the Iraqi budget that the Kurds are entitled to.
The uncertainty in actual figures of the Kurdish
population has played to Baghdad’s hand by exerting
pressure on the Kurds and diluting Kurdish demands.
The Iraqi national assembly itself is simply a gauge
of the makeup of the Iraqi mosaic. Not only does the
number of seats won by each group a reflection of
the breakdown of the population, the number of seats
allocated to each province is merely based on
population estimates. Such estimates are further
flawed and the result of guesswork as they are
primarily based on food ration cards.
Such a basis for power sharing seriously handicaps
true implementation of democracy. For example, Kurds
in general are not as reliant on ration cards as the
rest of Iraq or have not registered their children
under such a system, whereas the food ration card
have been manipulated and at times abused in the
rest of Iraq.
The conducting of a census was a key Kurdish
perquisite for joining Maliki’s coalition and was
supposedly due to be done within a year. Kurds
should strongly reject entering yet another general
election without the fulfillment of this key
Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance
writer and analyst, a regular
contributing writer for Ekurd.net website. Ismaeel whose primary focus and
expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern
current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to
promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the
diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in
Iraq and the Middle East.
Most recently he has produced work for the
Washington Examiner, Asian Times, The Epoch Times,
Asia News, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Kurdish Globe,
Hewler Post, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), KurdishMedia, PUK Online and OnlineOpinion.
He has achieved seminar recommended readings for Le
High University (Pennsylvania) and Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. His work has been
republished extensively elsewhere on the Internet.
He is a longtime contributing writer and columnist for Ekurd.net. You may reach the author via email at:
First appeared on: Kurdish Globe
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