Staffan de Mistura takes Kirkuk issue to Brussels

  • KurdishMedia.com - By Dr Mohammed M.A. Ahmed
  • 24/04/2008 00:00:00

Since the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of Kurds, who were forcibly removed from their homes and farms by Saddam Hussein and replaced by Arab settlers, have been patiently waiting for their rights to be reinstated. Many Kurds from Kirkuk and its environs rushed back to the city following the downfall of Saddam Hussein, hoping that they will be able to return to homes and farms they lost. However, the U.S. military stopped the Kurds in their tracks and they were told that they should wait until an elected Iraqi government had emerged to address their grievances through legal channels. Large numbers of the internally displaced Kurds, who are still languishing in Kirkuk’s sport stadium and in ramshackle former government buildings, have been waiting for the government to restore their rights by implementing article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. However, foot-dragging by the government, supported by Washington and Turkey, has erected obstacle after obstacle to prevent implementation of that very article, which was approved by Iraq’s political factions and supported by American constitutional experts.

Article 140 was made redundant by the surprise visit of the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to Kirkuk and her meetings with Kurdish, Arab and Turkman political factions on December 18, 2007. Kirkuk’s Arab and Turkman politicians, influenced by Arab nationalists and Turkey, opposed Kurdish demands during their meeting with Rice. It was after Rice’s visits to Kirkuk that the chairman of the Higher Committee for implementing article 140 resigned, stating that the legal time limit of December 31, 2007 had elapsed and that there was no more reason for the continuation of his committee. It was then that the issue of Kirkuk and other Arabized Kurdish territories was referred to the U.N. envoy, Staffan de Mistura in Baghdad. The referral of the issue to the U.N. practically froze all major steps taken since 2004 to address the issue of Arabized Kurdish territories.

Instead of expediting implementation of article 140 through mediations between Iraq’s political factions, de Mistura traveled to Brussels to seek advice from NATO and EU officials about the issue. On April 22, 2008, de Mistura, told a Reuters reporter, “The status of the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Kirkuk must be solved through a political formula and not a hastily organized referendum that would trigger violence.” [1] It was part of de Mistura’s job was to help organize a well-grounded and not hastily prepared referendum. Instead of trying to bridge the gap between Iraqi politicians, de Mistura traveled to Brussels to seek remedies for the Kirkuk issue from the EU and NATO members, including the U.S. and Turkey, who have been responsible for blocking implementation of the article in question. De Mistura is doing disservice to Iraq and the Kurds by internationalizing the issue in favor of Turkey and the U.S., who are interested mainly in the oil and gas resources of Kirkuk. The resolution of the problem requires not only political consensus but also practical technical measures to readjust the administrative boundaries of the old Kirkuk province.

It is puzzling to see NATO and EU officials discourage de Mistura from organizing a simple referendum in Kirkuk, while they were instrumental in dismembering the former Yugoslavia and replace it by Slovenia, Croatia, Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia. The double standard exercised by the west just to appease one of their members, Turkey, is outrageous. The Kurds are merely trying to reclaim what has been taken away from them by force through legal channels and are not seeking independence as Turkey claims. It is the Turkish paranoia about the Kurds and not Kirkuk, which is dragging the whole region down a slippery slope. Turning their back on the civil and human rights of some 30 million strong Kurds is a recipe for regional instability.

While de Mistura calls Kirkuk a Kurdish city, yet he fails to pursue implementation of article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which prescribes remedies to the problem. De Mistura merely regurgitates the position of a Turkish parliamentarian, who visited Kikuk during fall 2006 and arrogantly told Kurdish officials that there will be no referendum on Kirkuk and that the future of the city should be settled through consensus. De Mistura says that the issue of “Kirkuk needs to be solved through a political formula in which everybody, majorities and minorities feel comfortable,” yet he offers no comfort to the Kurdish majority of Kirkuk. He told Reuters, “he would propose options so Iraq could decide under which authority to put four disputed locations,” near Kirkuk, but excluding Kirkuk. He assumes that the resolution of the administrative responsibility for those selected areas would help in deciding the future status of Kirkuk. This means an indefinite delay in addressing the grievances of more than 200,000 internally displaced Kurds, while Sunni Arab insurgents are consolidating their grip on Arabized Kurdish territories in Mosul, Salahadin, Kirkuk and Diyala. It is disappointing to learn that a U.N. representative like de Mistura say, “Nobody doubts that Kirkuk is a crucial area for Iraq and for the region,” while ignoring the rights of the province’s indigenous people. Is this what the United Nations stands for?

Since de Mistura is on a U.N. assignment in Iraq, he has no right to publicize his half-baked report, which should be submitted for the consideration of the Iraqi government. It is for the government to decide whether it should publicize the contents of such a sensitive report. De Mistura seems to be unaware of the fact that ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence has been rampant in Arabized Kurdish areas during the past five years in an effort to complete the job started by Saddam Hussein’s government. Agreements between Iraq’s political faction for holding a referendum on Arabized Kurdish territories should help stabilize the situation rather than not inflame it. The longer he waits, the more difficult it becomes to address the issue to the satisfaction of all parties, especially the Kurds. In a campaign of scare tactics, the U.S., Turkish and Iraqi Arab officials, helped by media, have often referred to Kirkuk as a powder keg, which could turn into a regional war. Now, de Mistura has coined a new phrase by describing the issue as the “mother of all issues.” One wonders whether de Mistura is trying to help solve the Kirkuk problem or he is merely trying to inflame the situation further.

  • KurdishMedia.com - By Dr Mohammed M.A. Ahmed
  • 24/04/2008 00:00:00