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Analysis: Negotiations Between Iraqi Political Groups Stalled

Negotiations between the United Iraqi Alliance and Kurdistan Coalition lists reportedly reached an impasse on 12 March, just one day before the two groups were expected to formalize a preliminary agreement reached on 10 March for the formation of a transitional government. Talks will reportedly not resume until after the transitional National Assembly holds its first session on 16 March. The impasse will effectively leave the interim cabinet of Iyad Allawi in power, until an agreement can be reached.

The vaguely worded preliminary agreement did not provide the Kurds with the guarantees they were hoping for in the transitional government. The sticking points in the negotiations reportedly centered around issues related to the status of Kirkuk; the peshmerga control over northern Iraq; and the distribution of ministries. Kurds have also reportedly demanded control over oil revenues from Kirkuk in addition to 25 percent of the central government's budget.

The preliminary agreement worked out last week reportedly calls for a resolution to the Kirkuk dispute until after the ratification of a permanent constitution, but it appears that the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurds have contradictory interpretations on how to implement Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law. The Kurds have called for the repatriation of Kurds displaced from the city under the "Arabization" policy of the Saddam Hussein regime, and for the eventual inclusion of Kirkuk into a federal Kurdistan.

Article 58 (b) of the law states that the Presidency Council should make recommendations to the transitional assembly to remedy the "unjust changes" of administrative boundaries imposed by the Hussein regime. If the council cannot unanimously agree on a set of recommendations, it should appoint a neutral arbitrator to carry out the task. Should the Presidency Council fail to agree on an arbitrator, it should ask the UN secretary-general to appoint an international person to be the arbitrator. Clause C of Article 58 states, "The permanent resolution of disputed territories, including Kirkuk, shall be deferred until after these measures are completed, a fair and transparent census has been conducted, and the permanent constitution has been ratified."

Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Mas'ud Barzani has claimed, however, that an agreement should be reached on Kirkuk before the constitution is ratified. He told Al-Arabiyah television in an 11 March interview: "We must reach agreement on these issues, mainly the issue of Kirkuk, now. The issue of Kirkuk cannot at all be postponed" until after the constitution is ratified. When pressed by Al-Arabiyah, Barzani contended: "Historically and geographically, Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan. We are not demanding anything that is not legal or realistic. Kirkuk is an Iraqi city but with a Kurdish identity. We demand the implementation of Article 58 of the law."

Kurds have also demanded that the Iraqi Army seek permission from Kurdistan's parliament before it enters Kurdish areas. Barzani told Al-Arabiyah: "If Kurdistan is exposed to a foreign threat or a threat that is greater than the power of the internal security forces in the Kurdistan region, the Iraqi Army can certainly come and help." Jalal Talabani addressed the demand in the context of Kurdish suffering at the hands of the Hussein regime, telling Al-Arabiyah on 13 March: "This is an outstanding demand endorsed by the Kurdish parliament due to our bitter experiences. If there are no dangers posed to Iraq, such as a danger of foreign invasion or an enormous terrorist danger, there is no justification for the arrival of the army to Kurdistan without obtaining an approval by the Kurdistan National Assembly."

Shi'ite leaders call the demand extreme, adding that the central government has the right to dispatch the military to all parts of Iraq. "We told them that this is against federal law anywhere in the world," quoted Islamic Al-Da'wah party negotiator Jawad al-Maliki as saying on 14 March.

The parties also failed to agree on the distribution of ministries in the transitional government. In addition to the presidency, Kurds reportedly want to control two of the five most powerful ministries (foreign, oil, interior, finance, defense), a sticking point for the Shi'a, who say that the Kurds had a disproportionate share of posts in the interim government.

Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told Al-Sharqiyah television in an 11 March interview that the Kurdistan Coalition has a "clear stance on the ministries" adding, "We believe [that] we have the necessary qualified people who can serve this country." Salih confirmed that Kurds want to maintain control of the Foreign Ministry (Kurdish leader Hoshyar al-Zebari is the interim foreign minister). He would not confirm reports, however, that Kurds are vying for appointments in other ministries, saying, "I will not reveal our cards in the negotiations."

Kurdish and United Iraqi Alliance officials have given divergent views on the seriousness of the current impasse, with many saying they expected an agreement to be reached in the coming days. If the issue is not resolved, public support for the transitional government will deteriorate. A number of Iraqi newspapers last week cited the public's growing frustration over the delay in forming the new government. Elected candidates have also voiced concern over the delay. On 12 March, a number of United Iraqi Alliance members threatened to collectively resign from the transitional assembly if the alliance and the Kurds failed to agree on the formation of the government within 72 hours.

The alliance won a majority of the vote in the 30 January's National Assembly elections, but will need the Kurds to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament. The Kurds, for their part, do not want to miss what they view as a historic opportunity to obtain rights denied to them under previous Iraqi governments. As negotiations continue, the Kurds have said that they will work to bring other groups into the negotiations, in an apparent effort to gain support for their demands. In return, the Kurds could lend their support for Sunnis to assume some high-level posts in the transitional government.

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