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Kirkuk

City profile

1. Uniqueness of the City

The oil-rich city of Kirkuk lies within the Iraqi Governorate of the same name. It is considered a reflection of Iraq with its diversity of ethnic and religious groups; Turkmen, Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Arabs living together and portraying Iraq’s demographic makeup as a whole. However, its place in the Iraqi state has been disputed since the creation of the country by the British in the 1920s. The inclusion of Kirkuk occurred 25 years after Iraq’s inception, when the predominantly Kurdish Mosul vilayet was attached to the new country in 1925. Iraqi Kurds have long rejected their addition to the new Arab state and it has been cause for Kurdish revolt and intermittent conflict. Iraqi Kurdistan eventually gained autonomy from Saddam’s Iraq in 1991, although the Kirkuk region remained south of the Kurdistan Autonomy Region. Kirkuk is the centre of the northern Iraqi petroleum industry and thus strategically and economically important to the Baghdad central government.  

2. Origins as an ethno/nationally/religious divided city in its imperialist/nationalist contexts
 
Throughout the twentieth century, Baghdad was intent on increasing Kirkuk’s Arab population. The region witnessed the implementation of a deliberate and brutal policy of Arabization in order to ensure Arab control of the oil fields. The 1970 Agrarian Reform Law decreed ownership of land in excess of a new maximum hectare limit to be appropriated and reallocated. This process was discriminatorily applied to Kurdish and Turkmen land owners and redistributed to small Arab-owned farms. The continuation of these policies saw the Hussein regime alter the borders of Kirkuk governorate to produce a smaller Kurdish demographic in 1974. By 1975 Baghdad had stepped up its programme of Arabization in the region, forcibly expelling Kurds, Turkmen and Christians from Kirkuk. The central government aimed to achieve an Arab majority by persuading poor Shiite Arabs from the south to settle in the newly vacant homes in the north with enticing grants of  up to 10 000 Iraqi Dinars. 
 
During the 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq War, Iraqi Kurdish involvement with Iranian forces led to the Arabization policies deteriorating into all-out genocide. The subsequent Anfal campaigns claimed the lives of 100 000 to 200 000 Iraqi Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq. Even after Kurdistan gained autonomy, the Kirkuk Governorate continued to experience expulsions at approximately 1000 a month until 2003. From the beginning of the Ba’ath Party’s reign in 1968 until the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, an estimated 200 000 to 300 000 people, mostly Kurds, were expelled from the Kirkuk region drastically changing the demographics of Kirkuk city.
   
With the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003, the question of Kirkuk became a pivotal issue in the reconstruction of Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority, which governed Iraq in the year after the invasion, responded to the situation in Kirkuk by implementing a “stay-put” policy for Arab settlers. A legal process for determining property claims in the city was employed: The Iraqi Property Claims Commission, but the body has been criticized for its extremely slow response. Displeased with the lack of action over Kirkuk, Kurdish parties insisted that the permanent Constitution replicate Article 58 of Iraq’s 2004 transitional Constitution. Negotiations over the permanent Iraqi Constitution almost failed over the Kirkuk question, but the Kurdish parties were ultimately successful. The resulting Article 140 of the new Iraqi constitution necessitated a three stage process: normalization, census, and referendum. Normalization would be achieved by the assisted return of internally displaced people and the recovery of their property. Arab settlers who choose to return to southern and central Iraq would be helped in doing so and the boundaries of the governorate of Kirkuk would be restored to that of pre 1974. Subsequently, a census and a referendum would be conducted to decide the future of the city and the governorate. The set deadline for the implementation of this article was December 2007. However, this deadline has expired, been extended and expired again. Efforts to resolve the status of Kirkuk have currently stalled over non-implementation of Article 140.
  
3.  Internal structuring of the city itself.

  
The issue of normalization is complicated by the absence of reliable statistics on the ethnic and religious composition of the province. The last functional census of the Kirkuk region was taken in 1957, the results of which showed Turkmen forming the majority group within Kirkuk city, while Kurds held the majority of the governorate in general. To find indicators of the current ethnic make-up we can look to the results of the 2005 election, where the Kurds won a significant majority of the Kirkuk governorate vote. However, with no exact data, each group is free to claim the majority and instigate IDP movements to reinforce their claim. This precarious situation has led to fluctuating demographics within the city; IDP’s of different ethnic origins have moved to the city, while existing members of the population have fled, with sources noting at least 2,000 families having left Kirkuk in latter half of 2007.
 
David Ramano suggests that the initial ineffective efforts of the CPA created an element of fear within the parties of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Concerned that they would lose the city, they informally promoted the return of Kurdish IDP’s to Kirkuk in preparation for the implementation of article 140. The Kurdish authorities pushed for a more forcible reversal of Arabization which has seen fervent opposition by Kirkuk's Turkmen and Arabs. Expelling the Arab settlers, who were principally coerced by Saddam to settle in the north, is seen as perpetrating further injustice. The timescale of the Arabization policies has allowed for original Arab settlers to intermarry within the pre-existing population of Kirkuk and see their children and grandchildren born in the city. To forcibly expel these people to the south cannot be seen in terms of ‘return’.
   
By early 2006, the US military estimated that 100 000 internally displaced people had returned to the Kirkuk region, with the majority being Kurdish. A 2008 Iraqi Red Crescent report specifies that there are still over 18,000 IDPs of different ethnicities currently living in camps or abandoned buildings in Kirkuk city, placing strain on resources and existing inhabitants. Sectarianism in the city is growing, with ethnically targeted violence becoming more frequent, although numerous observers have affirmed that the general population seek a negotiated and peaceful solution. The ICG report that Al-Qaeda have moved operations to the city of Kirkuk and this opportunist strategy, coupled with the significant influence of nationalist politics, could block any hope of a resolution. The policies of the political parties, vying for control of the city, seem to have infiltrated the lives of the population and exasperated community tensions. UNAMI have noted that the once integrated city has witnessed the increasing withdrawal of ethnic groups into neighbourhoods for protection, because of the rise in violence. According to one NGO in Kirkuk, no civil dialogue is taking place between ethnic groups.

4.  Recent/contemporary nature and stage of the ethno-national conflict. 
 
The present security situation in the city has deteriorated, with close to a million residents witnessing escalating violence, with bombings, assassinations and shootings directed against civilians, Iraqi security forces, US forces and political rivals. The corrosion of security has been attributed to a number of factors, not least the anticipation of the referendum, with each group laying competing claims to the city.
Kirkuk’s Turkmen have stated that they will under no circumstances support the incorporation of Kirkuk into the Kurdish Region, preferring power sharing arrangements. They fear for their rights under the Kurdish authority and maintain their own historical claim to the city. Turkmen communities are generally located in and around the citadel, which is the oldest location in the city, believing that their community settlement patterns reflect their primacy; Turkmen maintain Kirkuk to be their city. When this historical view of the city is coupled with the suffering at the hands of Saddam’s regime, it becomes apparent that they are unlikely to yield their claim.  
 
Nevertheless, the Kurds hold that accepting Kurdistan’s claim to Kirkuk is the only geographically, historically, demographically and morally sound action. The position of the Kurdish authorities is unwavering. They demand the preservation of a protected autonomy similar to pre 2003 and the opportunity, via referendum, of extending the Kurdish Autonomous Region to include Kirkuk. The history of persecution appears to drive the imperative to control their own destiny in Kirkuk and Kurdistan. The issue of Kirkuk is closely linked to Kurdish national identity and has become symbolic of the Kurdish struggle. Subsequently, Kirkuk has become a powerfully sacred concern; Kurdish leaders have metaphorically referred to Kirkuk as their “Jerusalem”. Public opinion would not accept the forsaking of Kirkuk and therefore it is not likely that a Kurdish politician would make such a proposal. This has led to the Kurds consolidating their authority in Kirkuk post 2003; Kurdish authority is visible everywhere in the city. In addition to the provincial government and the police force, Kurdish military forces and the Kurdistan Regional Government intelligence service, the Asaish, are active in the city.  
 
This presence has been reported in numerous disputed territories and has not gone unnoticed by central government. In the past year the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mr. Maliki, launched a campaign to roll back Kurdish institutional and territorial power. In August 2008 Maliki sent forces into disputed territories and expelled Kurdish security agencies. Joost Hiltermann, for the international crisis group states that this move enraged Kurdish leaders, who fear that the manoeuvre indicates the possible fate of Kirkuk. The government action reflects the Arab stance, which states that Kirkuk is Iraqi. Arab groups tend to share the Turkmen desire for a power sharing of the solution.  In particular, Iraqi Sunni Arabs take a strong position in their objection to Kurdish control of Kirkuk. They are concerned with the possibility of similar autonomy in the Shiite south leaving ‘Sunnistan’ in central Iraq impoverished and lacking petroleum resources. The Sunni Arab position incorporates both the fair treatment of Kirkuki Arabs with an un-negotiable demand for a percentage of Iraq’s petroleum wealth.  
 
In addition to the Iraqi communities, the view of neighbouring states must also be taken into account. While the region is generally apprehensive of Kurdish control of Kirkuk, Turkey’s response warrants particular attention. Turkey has made a number of statements and protests on the issue warning that they may intervene if the vote goes against their interests. No elaboration is given but reference to Turkey’s provision of Kurdistan’s electricity and 90% of its gasoline is made. The main concerns driving these threats appear to be a fear that Kirkuk’s oil wealth would enable Iraqi Kurdistan to break away from Iraq and pursue territory in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated south-east, as well as concern for the Turkmen minority within the city.  
 
Due to the increasingly non-negotiable demands by national and international actors, a negotiated result is becoming improbable. If the matter is left to nationalist impulses on both sides, it will not be resolved given the utterly opposed nature of the Kurdish and Turkmen demands. 
 
5.  Scenarios for the future 

 
The prospects for Kirkuk are dependant upon the city’s administrative and geographical future. A number of different paths for governing Kirkuk can be taken, but as detailed above; there is no one solution to comply with the demands of all parties.  One option would be to follow through the three stage process of normalization, census, and referendum and uphold article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. However, there is no guarantee that non-Kurdish groups would participate. Additionally, there are increasing technical disagreements over who is eligible to vote. Internally displaced Kurds living in Suleimaniya and Erbil provinces were able to vote in the 2005 Kirkuk provincial elections, this created tensions with the international crisis group suggesting that some Arabs threatened that in the event of a referendum they might bus in their kin from the south to vote. Additionally, Kurdish politicians deny the right of Arab settlers to participate in the referendum, despite many being born and raised in Kirkuk. It is also debatable whether all parties would recognize the results of a referendum. If the result of the referendum fell in favour of the Kurds, The Sunni Arabs, Turkmen as well as Turkey have insinuated the possibility of violence or intervention. 
 
An alternate version of Kurdish referendum success would see the rural areas around Kirkuk, with a Kurdish majority, incorporated into Kurdistan. But Kirkuk city would be given a special status as a free standing municipality outside the jurisdiction of the Kurdish Regional Government. This would hope to prevent the symbolic loss for Kurdish groups in Iraq, and increase the sense of security for non-Kurdish residents in Kirkuk. The agreement would secure the rights of Turkmen within the city and aim to appease Turkey.   Nevertheless, those who fear increased Kurdish influence may suggest that Kirkuk governorate be left under the control of the Central Government. This would be in the interest of the majority of Sunni and Shiite Arabs as well as the Turkish state. However, this arrangement would be completely unacceptable to the Kurdish parties, and threaten stability in the region, as there is little doubt that it would instigate a Kurdish call to arms. 
 
The most recent proposal was put forward by the International Crisis Group in October 2008. It recommended a trade of territorial control for the right to exploit mineral wealth. It necessitated Kurdish compliance with Kirkuk's special status as a stand-alone federal region for an interim period of 10 years, and in return, they would be granted the right to exploit Kurdistan’s petroleum. While pragmatists in every camp have considered this proposal, the Kurdish and Arab nationalists utterly rejected it. Kirkuk has come to represent too much for too many. Hilterman, for the International Crisis group affirms that Kirkuk has become a symbol of each group’s status, and fears that as a result any negotiations will prove increasingly difficult. 

5. Recommended references on Kirkuk

Anderson, Liam and Gareth Stansfield (2009) Crisis in Kirkuk: The Ethnopolitics of Conflict and Compromise. Philadelphia PA: UPenn Press.

Joost Hiltermann, ‘Iraq: "Everyone Wants a Piece of Kirkuk, the Golden Prize", The National, 26 February 2009.

International Crisis Group, ‘Oil for Soil: Toward a Grand Bargain on Iraq and the Kurds’ Middle East Report N°80, 28 October 2008.

International Crisis Group, ‘Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line’ Middle East Report N°88, 8 July 2009.

Romano, David (2007) 'The Future of Kirkuk', Ethnopolitics, 6:2, 265 – 283.

Stansfield, Gareth and Liam Anderson (2009) ‘Kurds in Iraq: The Struggle Between Baghdad and Erbil’, Middle East Policy, Vol 16, No. 1.

Iraqi updates: www.iraqupdates.com