Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't do it, Kirkuk!

Firstly, I want to note the launch of ForeignPolicy.com's Middle East Channel, which is already shaping up to be fantastic (how could it not be, being edited by the likes of Marc Lynch and Daniel Levy?).

From that very channel comes this piece, Kurds No Closer to Taking Kirkuk After Iraqi Elections.

The piece is of course interesting on a topical level, as the fate of Kirkuk (whether it, and its oil, should become part of Iraqi Kurdistan or not) has been a major sticking point in Iraqi politics. However, being all caught up in my thesis as I currently am, I found this bit particularly interesting:

In the public eye, every election in Kirkuk turns into a census and quasi-referendum rolled into one. This is because the ethnic communities here assume that Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans vote for their own candidates; that this shows the respective communities' sizes; that the vast majority of Kurds want Kirkuk to be attached to the Kurdistan region; and that these factors combined suggest the probable outcome of a future referendum on Kirkuk's status.


Moreover, matters are complicated by intra-Kurdish divisions. Some of the heaviest campaigning in Kirkuk was not between Arabs and Kurds but intra-Kurdish: between the Kurdistani Coalition which combines the two Kurdish principal parties - the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - and the upstart Goran, or Change, movement. Goran's strong showing in the Kurdistan regional elections last July was a dire warning to the ruling parties, especially the PUK, the party from which Goran's frustrated would-be reformers sprang last year. Today, when no open campaigning was allowed, the PUK and KDP went all-out in their bid to outpace their rival. Cars bearing KDP and PUK flags and blaring their horns crisscrossed Kurdish neighborhoods as if the campaign was still in full swing. Men beat drums; in some areas, women - decked out in their most colourful finery - danced to the beat.

Some Goran candidates may not be following the main parties', and possibly their own leadership's, line on Kirkuk. For five futile years, the KDP and PUK have insisted that the only way to resolve Kirkuk's status is by a referendum based on an ethnic vote. They have loaded the outcome through their control of local government, which allowed them to change the governorate's demography in their favor. That outcome, therefore, is unlikely to be accepted by the losers, who have threatened violence if they are inducted into the Kurdistan region against their will.

Some Goran officials in Kirkuk, by contrast, seem to be saying something new - that the only sensible way to proceed is to restore trust between the ethnic communities and let Kirkukis decide for themselves, over time, what the best solution is for Kirkuk, by referendum or otherwise. This is music to the ears of Arabs and Turkomans, who have made no secret of their hope that Goran will gain a couple of seats at the PUK's expense, even if they themselves wouldn't vote for Goran, lest they increase the overall Kurdish vote.

It sounds like the PUK and KDP have been trying to take the province in a Lebanese direction--that is to say, legislating and statebuilding based on demographics. What is at stake in this case is different from what was at stake in Lebanon when the various agreements on which Lebanon's confessional system is based were made, but the consequences might not be dissimilar--widespread violence and general anarchy. I'm not sure what "letting Kirkukis decide for themselves, over time, what the best solution is for Kirkuk, by referendum or otherwise" would entail other than paralysis and punting--some kind of decision needs to be made one way or another--nor do I know how Goran would propose to go about "restoring trust between the ethnic communities", but all of that said, I can't see the PUK's and KDP's approach ending anywhere very good.

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