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The Kirkuk issue

By Nouri Talabany - posted Thursday, 11 October 2007

Shortly a critical referendum will be held in Northern Iraq to determine the future of the important city of Kirkuk. There are real fears that the aspirations of the Kurds to reclaim the city as an integral part of the Kurdish region will be sabotaged.

If the referendum is held and the decision made to join Iraqi Kurdistan, what will the implications be for other minority groups and the relations with Turkey?

Anyone seeking familiarity with the history of the region need only read Nikiteen's Les Kurdes, which is a history of the Kurds. In May 1958, in his preface to this book, the renowned orientalist, Louis Massignon, wrote that co-operation between the mountain Kurds and the Seljuki Turks allowed them to jointly occupy Anatolia. He added that if this co-operation could be re-established and their small differences resolved, they would play an important role in this region of the Middle East.


In the last 30 years, however, everything has changed as a result of the policy of the Arabisation of the Kirkuk region. The 1957 census is the last one which is accepted as legitimate. Today, any individual or group claiming to have the exact statistics of the numbers of Kurds, Turkmans, Arabs and others, is doing so for his own political ends and is not to be believed.

Today, we face an entirely new situation arising from the elections for the Kirkuk Provisional Council held in January 2005. Some people chose not to participate and, consequently, do not accept its result. But the strange thing is that every group is represented in the Council, including those critics of it.

As for myself, I see the Kirkuk issue not as a question of minority or majority, but as a lack of trust in each other which must be overcome. To succeed, we have to find a way to return to the pre-1958 situation when all groups lived peacefully together. This will not be easy, but we should not be discouraged as there still exist areas in Kirkuk where this is the norm. This proves that the problem is not one of ethnicity but of misunderstanding, often caused by outside interference.

From the creation of the Iraqi state, the Central Government constantly tried to undermine and manipulate relations between Kurds and Turkmans, forcing them both to accept the Government's policy. For instance, an Arab was always appointed as Director of Education in Kirkuk. The Kurdish community was encouraged to believe that the Turkmans would never allow them to decide their own policies, and vice versa, if the Director was from either of their communities.

After the fall of the Ba'athist regime in April 2003, the threat came from some extreme Arab organisations and from certain other regional states that were interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq. They used the Arab and international media to disseminate propaganda against the Kurds, accusing them of wanting the "Kurdishisation" of Kirkuk!

In truth, the real interest of all these groups is Kirkuk's oil. By acts of terrorism, the killing of innocent people, and threats against anyone who does not agree with their policies, they aim to make the city insecure.


Their ultimate goal is to prevent the referendum taking place in the time stated according to Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. They use terrorism as a means of ensuring that the situation in Kirkuk remains as it was under Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athist regime, when the regime controlled the oil revenue and thousands of donams (1 donam = 2,500 square metres) of prime agricultural land was taken by new Arab settlers.

But the Kirkuk region belongs geographically to the Kurdistan region and, even if there were not one drop of oil there, the Kurds would continue to press for this. They do not claim that Kirkuk is a city populated by Kurds alone, but say repeatedly, that there has always been a mix of ethnic groups who lived peacefully together and that every effort should be made to enable them to do so again and to reinstate the principles which governed their lives in the past.

It is not the original Turkman families of Kirkuk who are responsible for attempts to sour relations between Kurds and Turkmans but those who are under outside influence. Many ex-leaders of the “Turkman Front” have spoken of their dealings with various officials of the Iraqi Security Services and say that they were unable to take any decision without consulting them.

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About the Author

Nouri Talabany is a Professor of Law and Independent MP in the Parliament of the Region of Kurdistan.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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