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 Baghdad sells Kirkuk's oil as it stalls article 140

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Baghdad sells Kirkuk's oil as it stalls article 140  3.6.2012  

Kirkuk oil fields. Photo: Reuters 
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June 3, 2012

KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region, — In Iraq’s transitional constitution after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, 43 percent of areas historically claimed by the Kurds were considered "disputed" and tied to Article 58, later to be changed to Article 140 in the permanent constitution. One of these disputed territories is the province of Kirkuk.

Although Article 140 stipulates equal power-sharing between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the central government has the upper hand in running and administering the province. Its powers include controlling the budget of the province, signing oil contracts and exporting oil. The KRG does not have any form of control over the North Oil Company of Kirkuk.

Over the past two years, Baghdad has made exporting oil from the new oilfield of Iraqi Kurdistan a condition for giving the KRG its 17 percent share of the Iraqi budget. However, Baghdad has been exporting Kirkuk’s oil as if the Kurds have no share in it, despite it being a disputed region.

There are other regions -- like Khanaqin, Makhmur, Shangar and Shekhan -- that fall within the disputed territories, but their budgets and administration are still controlled by Baghdad.

Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk, says, "The stability in this province is tied to the political relations between Baghdad and KRG. When relations are good, so is the situation in the disputed province."

Nuri Talabani, a constitutional expert, attributes the instability in Kirkuk to domestic and external factors. "The United States is the reason why the problem of the disputed areas is still hanging in the balance. The Kurds wanted to immediately annex these regions after 2003, but the U.S. did not allow it," Talabani says.

After the fall of Saddam in 2003, these disputed regions were not under the control of either Baghdad or the KRG, but the KRG was able to seize control in the heat of events.

"The existence of two powers and authorities in the Kurdistan Region -- the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Union (KDP) -- and the power struggle between them became the main hindrance to resolving the Kirkuk issue,” Talabani believes. “Baghdad has manipulated this weakness until the present day."

Regarding the weakness of Kurdish authorities in Kirkuk, the governor blames the Kurdish officials. "They turned Kirkuk into a disputed area when originally it was not,” he says. “Their mistakes of the past are still unchanged. The fall of Saddam's regime in 2003 was a big opportunity for the Kurds, but they missed this chance."

According to Iraqi statistics from 1957, the majority of Kirkuk residents were Kurdish, but after the Arabization process many of them and some Turkmen were forced out and replaced with Arabs from the south and center of Iraq.

"Fifty-four percent of the residents of Kirkuk are currently Kurds," says Governor Karim. In Kirkuk’s first provincial elections in 2005, Kurds won 63 percent of the votes.

Now the fate of the city is tied to Article 140, which was supposed to be implemented by the end of 2007 and would have decided whether the disputed areas would join the autonomous region of Kurdistan or remain part of Iraq.

Kurdish officials blame the Iraqi government for stalling Article 140. But Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki claims he has done his part concerning the implementation of the article and that the rest depends upon the Iraqi president Jalal Talabani.

Adnan Mufti, a senior member of the PUK and former speaker of Parliament, says, "We consider Kirkuk part of Kurdistan; so does the history and geography of this province. At the same time, we abide by the Iraqi constitution to achieve the goal of proving its Kurdish identity."

After the parliamentary elections of 2010, the implementation of Article 140 was one of Kurdistan’s conditions for agreeing to join the current Iraqi government. Two years on, the Article is still stuck at its first phase, normalization, which precedes the census and referendum phases.

"The Kurds must seriously reconsider the Erbil Agreement, which had the implementation of Article 140 as its main condition." Governor Karim says.

The Erbil Agreement was an initiative by Kurdish President Massoud Barzani that resulted in the formation of the current Iraqi government. Now Barzani says that he does not trust PM Maliki because he has broken his promise to fulfill the conditions of the agreement and is heading towards totalitarianism.

Abdulfattah Abdulrazzaq, an expert in international law and constitution, says the Kurdish authority in Kirkuk should end based on the constitution.

"According to the Iraqi constitution, Article 110 covers the authority of regions and provinces, and states that the executive, legislative and judicial authority of the KRG to be withdrawn to the borders of April 9, 2003,” he says. “This means the KRG has authority only in the three provinces of Erbil, Duhok and Sulaimaniyah, but not Kirkuk.”

Abdulrazzaq adds, "The Iraqi government has judicial, legislative and executive authority in Kirkuk, but the KRG does not."

However, this line marks the authority of the KRG, not the geographical boundaries of the Kurdistan Region, and this region has been classified as disputed by the Iraqi constitution.

"These regions have been identified as disputed areas in the Iraqi constitution, which implies that the problems in these areas have not been resolved yet,” says Nuri Talabani. “This means that the KRG has the same authority in those areas as Baghdad and the Kurds must have a role and voice in running these areas.”

The central government of Iraq and the KRG are in a continuous power struggle in Kirkuk. Sometimes these struggles have reached the level of threatening each other. In May 2011, a large number of Kurdish Peshmerga forces were mobilized to Kirkuk when some Arab groups tried to kick out Kurdish security forces (Asayish).

According to a current agreement between Baghdad and the KRG, the Kurdish 12th Brigade is stationed on the outskirts of Kirkuk along with the Iraqi army. The Kurdish president stated that the cannons of the Iraqi army have been directed at the Kurdistan Region since Maliki’s recent visit to Kirkuk province last month.

"The presence of Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk is according to an agreement between the Iraqi Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Region," says Karim.

During his visit to Kirkuk, Maliki stated that none of the "illegal" forces should remain in Kirkuk, which was rejected from the Kurdish side.

Nuri Talabani advises Kurdish officials "to keep the Asayish forces in Kirkuk and not allow the Iraqi army to enter the city of Kirkuk. They should also work on keeping the Kirkuk airfield under the authority of Kirkuk administration and remove the Iraqi armed forces from it."

According to experts, Kirkuk’s oil reserve is estimated to be around 25 billion barrels; 15 billion barrels have been extracted since 1927. The governor of Kirkuk says that 400,000 barrels a day were extracted by the previous regime. Now, 500,000 barrels are extracted daily.

The governor of Kirkuk thinks that exporting more oil is a positive thing. "The more the better for Kirkuk province because we get more petrodollars," he says, a system that gives one U.S. dollar to the province of Kirkuk for each extracted barrel of crude oil.

The revenue from oil and the supervision of oil contracts in Kirkuk are controlled by the Iraqi government, without any consultation with the KRG. For this reason, the KRG has warned some oil companies working in the Kurdistan Region against signing any contracts regarding Kirkuk with Baghdad without their permission.

Hama Jaza Salih, a KRG adviser for oil and gas, says, "Oil extraction from the disputed region should be through a mutual agreement between Baghdad and the KRG, but the Iraqi government exports more than 500,000 barrels of oil without consulting with the KRG."

Adnan Kirkuki, a member of the KDP leadership council in Kirkuk, considers the one-sided control by Baghdad in Kirkuk to be illegal.

"The Kurds have previously shown their ability to challenge Baghdad by stopping the flow of electricity from Kirkuk to Baghdad,” he says. “Now, as a means of political pressure, the Kurds can stop the export of oil. Until the issue of the disputed areas is resolved, the Kurds have as much authority in Kirkuk as Baghdad.”

In the provincial council of Kirkuk, and behind the desk of Kirkuk governor, there is only the Iraqi flag. There are no signs of the Kurdish flag in the government institutions of Kirkuk either, as if the province has been stripped of its Kurdish identity or the issue of the disputed area has been resolved in favor of the central government.

"Kurdish flags will be raised in government institutions as soon as Kirkuk becomes part of the Kurdistan Region,” says Mufti. “We can see the Kurdish national flag in the other disputed areas such as Khanaqin, Shangar and Makhmur, but the tensions in Kirkuk are different from the ones in other places.”

Constitutional expert Abdulrazzaq says the issue of the Kurdish flag is political.

"According to the constitution and laws, the national flag of the Kurdistan Region must be raised only in the Kurdistan Region,” he says. “Since Kirkuk is legally not part of the Kurdistan Region, it is not possible to raise the Kurdish flag here. The issue of raising the Kurdish flag is political rather than legal.”

For his part, Kirkuk governor says he will abide by any decision made by the Kurdish Parliament as regards the Kurdish flag.

"Let the political powers of the Kurdistan Region and Kurdish Parliament make a political decision to raise the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk and I will be ready to abide by it,” he says. “But Kirkuk will not become part of Kurdistan through raising flags; it needs sincere efforts.”

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