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Analysis: Kurds Maintain Stance On Kirkuk Elections

The local elections slated to be held in the northern Iraqi governorate of Kirkuk on 30 January may prove to be the most contentious in the country. Kurdish leaders have widely opposed the holding of an election there on the grounds that Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) has not been implemented.

The article calls on the Iraqi Property Claims Commission and other relevant bodies to "act expeditiously to take measures to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime's practices in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk, by deporting and expelling individuals from their places of residence, forcing migration in and out of the region, settling individuals alien to the region, depriving the inhabitants of work, and correcting nationality."

The Property Claims Commission was instructed under the TAL to restore residents to their homes and property, or to provide just compensation to the displaced. It was also instructed to compensate Iraqi Arabs resettled in Kirkuk by the regime. The article also states that the permanent resolution of disputed territories, including Kirkuk, be deferred until after the above-mentioned measures are taken, a census completed, and a permanent constitution ratified.

The Resettlement Of Kirkuk

Kirkuk is currently inhabited by Kurds, Turkomans, and Arabs. The Arabization policies of the Hussein regime sought to change the demographic nature of the oil-rich city by forcibly resettling Iraqis from central and southern Iraq, and forcing out Kurds and Turkomans native to the area. The issue of Kirkuk remains one of the most sensitive issues for Kurds, who seek to incorporate Kirkuk into a federal Kurdistan. Kurdish leaders Mas'ud Barzani and Jalal Talabani said in December that they would advocate a postponement of local elections in Kirkuk until the outstanding issues of resettlement and a taking of the census are addressed. A national census had been planned for October, but the ongoing violence and organizational issues prevented it from being carried out. Moreover, the Property Claims Commission has yet to begin its work.

Kurdish officials began encouraging Kurds to move back to Kirkuk, which lies just south of the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq, soon after the U.S.-led war. Media reports indicate that as many as 7,000 Kurds are living in and around the city in tents, with little to no access to electricity and water. Moreover, the "Christian Science Monitor" reported on 7 December that thousands of Kurds originally from the city but living elsewhere have switched their voter-registration cards from their current places of residence back to Kirkuk ahead of the vote. Some 200,000 Arab residents that were resettled to the city some 20 years ago remain fearful that the situation could escalate into ethnic violence, heretofore seen on only a sporadic level, according to media reports.
Kurdish officials began encouraging Kurds to move back to Kirkuk soon after the U.S.-led war.

The move has compounded relations with Turkoman residents of the city, who have claimed to be under threat from Kurdish returnees. The issue has prompted Turkey to take a stand in support of Turkomans -- ethnic Turks -- and has strained relations between Turkey and Kurdish leaders on more than one occasion in the past 20 months. Turkoman leaders have reportedly said they favor holding the election in Kirkuk, where they will offer up Turkoman candidates on one slate, reported on 7 January. "The majority of the Turkoman parties have formed electoral alliances," said Ryad Sari Kahya, head of the Turkoman Eali party. "In Kirkuk province, for example, all the Turkoman parties will form one list, while in the National Assembly elections, they will join the Shi'ite list." The two main Kurdish parties, on the other hand, have refused to field candidates for the governorate council election, Reuters reported on 4 January.

Iraqi election officials and the Allawi government have refused to delay voting in the city. "They can do as they please, but the elections will go ahead on 30 January," Independent Electoral Commission spokesman Farid Ayar said in early December.

U.S. Support

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage discussed the issue with Kurdish leaders Barzani and Talabani during his visit to Iraq last week. Speaking with reporters in Iraq, Armitage reiterated U.S. support for the implementation of Article 58, but stopped short of commenting directly on Kirkuk. Barzani told reporters that the issue of Kirkuk was addressed in the meeting, saying: "We, together, will make tireless efforts to arrive at a good end, both to bring the Iraqi general elections to a successful end and to resolve the Kirkuk issue in a way that serves the interests of both the people of Kurdistan and Iraq," Kurdistan Satellite television reported on 2 January. Armitage told reporters at a subsequent press conference in Ankara the same day that the United States remains sensitive to the claims of both Turkomans and Kurds over Kirkuk.

The meeting did little to alter the Kurdish position however. Barzani told Iraqi National Assembly speaker Fu'ad Ma'sum, deputy speaker Hamid Majid Musa, and assembly member Muhammad Baqir al-Ulum that "holding municipal elections [in Kirkuk] would set in place the reality of Arabization policies and other [policies] of the Ba'athist regime," Irbil's "Khabat" reported on 5 January. "If elections are to be held there then the people of Kurdistan would make their stance clear," he added.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i reportedly took a stand in support of Kurdish aspirations on the city, purportedly telling KurdSat television that he believes Kirkuk is part of the Kurdistan region, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) website reported on 3 January.

For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".

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