March 14, 2005


Kurds' Return to City Shakes Politics in Iraq (EDWARD WONG, 3/14/05, NY Times)

Efforts to restore Kurds to their jobs and property without disenfranchising Arabs are fraught with the possibility of igniting a civil war. The debate has so inflamed passions that Kurdish and Shiite Arab negotiators trying to form a coalition government in Baghdad may have to put off any real decision on Kirkuk's future.

"As far as Kirkuk is concerned, because of the different ethnic groups in it, we have to apply a permanent solution, not a temporary solution," Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shiite nominee for prime minister, said.

Kurdish leaders call Kirkuk their Jerusalem, saying they should control it - and its oil fields - because it was historically Kurdish. The Kurds are pushing Shiite leaders like Dr. Jaafari to help quickly give property back to Kurdish returnees, evict Arab settlers and employ more Kurds at North Oil, the only major government institution here that the Kurds have been unable to dominate since the American invasion.

The Kurdish political parties have huge leverage. Kurds turned out in large numbers to vote on Jan. 30, securing more than a quarter of the seats in the 275-member national assembly and making themselves a necessary partner for the Shiite bloc that won the largest number of seats.

But with the oil in Kirkuk at stake, the Kurdish and Shiite parties have been unable to agree on how to carry out Article 58 of the interim constitution, which provides vague guidelines for settling the property disputes here. Equally vexing is the question of who will administer Kirkuk - the national government or the autonomous regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan.

In the 1960's, Baath Party officials began packing Kurds and, to a lesser degree, Turkmen into trucks and evicting them from Kirkuk. As the displacement continued, the Kurds who worked for North Oil, like Mr. Ahmed, rose to the top of the relocation list. The government, dominated by Sunni Arabs, imported mostly Shiite Arabs from the impoverished south into the Kirkuk area.

Kurds began returning in large numbers nearly two years ago, when the Hussein government was toppled. Some Arab families fled, but most heeded the reassurances of American soldiers who, trying to avert an ethnic war, urged them to stay and urged the Kurds to await a legal solution.

"From my perspective, the Arab settlers who were brought into Kirkuk were also victims of Saddam Hussein," said Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister and a top Kurd. "But the question is, if we're talking about a new Iraq, does this mean the elite of Iraq, the democratically elected elite of Iraq, are willing to acknowledge the terrible mistake that was made and put it right?"

Sure, it'll be a kind of raw deal for the Arabs, but in the end the Kurds will prevail because it just means more to them. May as well settle the matter quickly and finally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2005 8:00 AM
Comments for this post are closed.