November 26, 2007

TWO STATE SOLUTION:

Even more good news for Maliki (Sami Moubayed, 11/27/07, Asia Times)

The tug-of-war between Ba'athists and leaders of post-2003 Iraq has dominated political life in Baghdad. What's new is the apparent willingness of Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist bloc, to coordinate with Kurdish politicians. Muqtada also sent a very strong message to Kurdish politicians through one of his top loyalists, member of Parliament Bahaa al-Araji. Speaking to the Iraqi newspaper Ilaf, Araji defended article 140 of the constitution, pertaining to Kirkuk. That is certainly a new line for the Sadrists. The article, which has caused a storm in Iraqi political circles, calls for a census and referendum in the oil-rich city to see whether it can be incorporated into Iraqi Kurdistan.

In 1986, as part of his Arabization process, Saddam called for the relocation of Arab families to Kirkuk, the center of Iraq's petroleum industry, to outnumber the Kurds living there. He also uprooted thousands of Kurds from Kirkuk. Since the downfall of Saddam's regime, the Kurds have been demanding Kirkuk, something that both Sunnis and mainstream Shi'ites curtly refuse.

Recently, however, after Maliki's main allies in the Sadrist bloc and Iraqi Accordance Front walked out on him, he was left with no other option but to cuddle up to the Kurds and support them on Kirkuk. He backed article 140, calling it "mandatory" and called on 12,000 Arab families brought to Kirkuk by Saddam to return to their Arab districts. When that is complete, and the census and referendum are held, then Kirkuk would become 100% Kurdish.

Saddam's deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz once told Kurdish politicians, "You [the Kurds] have one right: to weep as you pass through Kirkuk [since it will never become a Kurdish city]." But if Maliki and Muqtada support article 140, then Kirkuk very much might become "Kurdish".

Muqtada's about-turn was expressed by Araji, who said: "The article is constitutional and it should be handled accordingly." When asked if this means giving Kirkuk to the Kurds, Araji did not say, "No, Kirkuk is an Arab city and will remain an Arab city." He surprised observers by saying: "The Iraqis are the ones who decide on this." Clearly, Araji could not have made such a bold statement without getting prior approval from Muqtada.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2007 7:32 AM
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