Iraq: Kirkuk oil struggle behind Kurdish constitutional controversy

In an extraordinary session at Irbil, the parliament of Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) voted July 9 to postpone a referendum scheduled later this month on the autonomous region’s controversial constitution. The referendum was to be held on July 25 simultaneously with the region’s parliamentary elections. Parliament speaker Adnan Mufti admitted the decision not to hold the referendum simultaneously with the parliamentary elections “has been influenced by the bad publicity the constitution has received in Baghdad.” Shi’ite and Sunni Arab politicians in Baghdad have criticized the draft Kurdish constitutionā€” which has been approved by the Kurdish legislatureā€”as having “secessionist” tendencies.

Mufti said that US Vice President Joe Biden told Iraqi President Jalal Talabaniā€”also a longtime Kurdish leaderā€”and KRG President Masoud Barzani in a phone conversation that the Kurdish region is entitled to its own constitution, but should seriously consider the objections raised by Baghdad and resolve the situation through dialogue. (RFE/RL, July 10)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said he wants to see local polls held in the ethnically divided province of Kirkuk before Iraq’s January general elections. Officials were forced to exempt Kirkuk from Iraq’s provincial elections this past Jan. 31 because rival lawmakers could not agree on how to organize the vote. Kirkuk is to hold special elections at a later date.

Said Maliki in a statement on his website: “We are working for an election in Kirkuk before the parliamentary elections, but there will be difficulties. We need to open up all the [rival] factions to each other if we are to achieve provincial council elections before the parliamentary vote.” In an unsubtle warning to the Kurds, he added: “Kirkuk’s problem cannot be solved by using force…[but] by understanding,” Maliki said. (RFE/RL, July 5)

The KRG on July 8 approved the new constitutionā€”in which it laid claim to the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk, as well as areas within Nineveh and Diyala provinces. The constitution was approved by 96 of the 111 MPs in the regional parliament in Arbil. The constitution refers to Kurdistan as “composed of Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, Chaldeans, Syriac, Assyrians, Armenians and others who are citizens of the Kurdistan region.” (AFP, June 24)

See our last posts on Iraq, and Kurds and the oil struggle.

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