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Iraq: Kurds Taking Hard-Line Stance On Constitution

  • Kathleen Ridolfo --> Kurds are becoming increasingly vocal in their demands for the new constitution Kurdish leaders in Iraq have called for all of their demands to be met in the draft constitution, threatening that otherwise they will encourage voters in the three Kurdish provinces to vote down the document in October.

Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani has led the call and has become increasingly vocal in recent weeks, even contending on 1 August that Kurds have the right to establish their own state. Therefore, he concluded, the other parties to the draft should be grateful that Kurds have not demanded more.

"What we are demanding is the least of rights, as our rights are more than this. There are [important] issues that cannot be negotiated, including the Kirkuk issue, natural resources, federalism, the peshmergas, and the right of the Kurdistan parliament to legislate," Baghdad's "Al-Dustur" on 3 August quoted Barzani as saying.

Barzani has kept a close watch on all Iraqi parliamentary proceedings and recalled Kurdish delegates on 1 August after the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance attempted to push through legislation on 30 July without allowing members time to review and discuss it. Shi'ite parliamentarian Sa'd Qandil reportedly submitted the legislation, which proposed dividing Iraq into electoral constituencies rather than regarding the entire country as one constituency as it was in the January election.

Barzani has also alleged that the Iraqi Independent Election Commission intends to somehow harm the Kurds, who, along with large numbers of Chaldo-Assyrians and Turkomans, were denied the opportunity to vote in some areas west of Mosul in January because ballots were never delivered (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 February 2005).

Among the initiatives recently undertaken by Kurds is the inclusion of a clause in the constitution that would allow Kurds to vote on independence in eight years. Sunni drafters in particular have objected to the clause. The issue is compounded for the Sunnis by the insistence of Shi'ite drafters on a clause that would allow for several governorates to unite as regions. Under the Transitional Administrative Law -- the interim constitution for Iraq drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority -- no more than three governorates may form a region.

The Kurdistan region currently comprises three governorates, but Kurds are seeking to redraw the boundaries of the region to include the oil-rich Kirkuk Governorate, a move opposed by Sunni Arabs and Turkomans who also live in Kirkuk. Shi'ite parliamentarian Husayn Shahristani told "Al-Hayat" on 31 July that Arabs would also oppose including Kirkuk in the Kurdistan region, saying they have only agreed on normalizing the security situation in Kirkuk.

Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) submitted a redrawn map to the Iraqi National Assembly for consideration in the new constitution in late July. The map includes Kirkuk and the towns of Badra and Jassan, located east of Al-Suwayrah (which is south of Baghdad) close to the Iranian border. KDP member Mullah Bakhtiyar told reporters that the map "is based on historical and geographical facts," adding, "We are determined to stick to this map," AP reported on 22 July.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and its head, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, back the KDP's demands. PUK member and Iraqi Planning Minister Barham Salih said last week that he supports a boycott of the draft constitution should it fail to respect Kurdish basic rights.

The Kurds had objected to a Shi'ite proposal that would make Shari'a law the basic source of legislation in the new Iraq. That issue appears to have been resolved in recent days, with Shari'a being identified merely as "a" source of legislation.

But Talabani has taken a more diplomatic approach to resolving the issues. He told Al-Arabiyah television in a 25 July interview that Kurds might be willing to give up control of Kirkuk's oil to the federal government in exchange for normalization in the city (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 1 March 2005). The Iraqi president has also said that other issues, including the insistence of the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance that Iraq be officially renamed the Islamic Federal Iraqi Republic, would not be a sticking point in negotiations for the draft constitution.

Shi'ite Government Criticized For Lack of Progress

Talabani has taken a stronger approach, however, to what he sees as an attempt by the Shi'ite-led administration to monopolize power. Talabani has been equally vocal in criticizing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's government for not moving forward on certain issues, most notably implementing change in Kirkuk.

Kurds also oppose attempts by the Shi'a to dissolve the peshmerga. Husayn Shahristani, deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, told "Al-Hayat" on 31 July that the peshmerga forces "cannot stay just like that" and must be dissolved or integrated into the Iraqi Army. Peshmerga forces are currently active outside the Kurdistan region in cities such as Mosul, Kirkuk, and Khanaqin.

But Kurds are not the only ones criticizing the al-Ja'fari's government. Iraqi Shi'ite leaders observing the developments from abroad have been equally critical.

A group of Shi'ite leaders in London told the "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 30 July that they hold al-Ja'fari's government responsible for the deterioration of security, services, and financial corruption. The leaders contended that al-Ja'fari's administration does not have the experience and has no connection to the streets of Iraq.

One leader, Abd al-Husayn al-Mu'mini, contended that Baghdad has no control over the majority of state affairs. "The majority of cities in southern and central Iraq, apart from Baghdad, are under the control of the political parties and ruled by the militia of these parties," al-Mu'mini said. In northern Iraq, Kurdistan is under the control of the Kurds who are enjoying an almost independent rule, and their peshmerga militias are in control of the security situation there. Whatever else is left of al-Ja'fari's control is actually mostly under the control of U.S. forces.

Shi'ite political activist and Islamic scholar Iyad Jamal al-Din criticized what he viewed as the Shi'ite religious authorities' interference in politics in an interview with the daily published on 28 July, calling it dangerous to exploit religious legitimacy in politics. He said he hoped that the constitution would support a secular state. "A secular regime is a guarantee of the freedom of the religious establishment and other institutions. It is a guarantee of the freedom of political parties and individuals," al-Din said.

See also:

Kurds Increase Pressure For Federation

Kurdish Victory In Kirkuk Raises Ethnic Tensions