Kirkuk: the case for plan B

January 24, 2011

The way things stand now, one can predict that in the next 50 years Kirkuk will still be one of the sticking points between Baghdad and Erbil.
Today, the rhetoric is that Kirkuk is the heart of Kurdistan — the Quds of Kurdistan. In reality, it is the sick child of Iraq. The whole family is trying to prescribe its own medicine to cure this child, yet no one seems to be succeeding.
Looking at the various positions on Kirkuk, the Kurdish stance seems the most consistent and fixed. The views of the other communities have ranged from denying Kirkuk’s Kurdistani identity to a systematic policy of Arabization and ethnic cleansing.
The Kurdish leadership constantly reminds the world, the Kurdish people and its own officials that Kirkuk has always been the make-or-break issue for Kurdish negotiations, relations and wars with Baghdad.Kirkuk’s status has always been the ultimatum. It has, on many occasions in Kurdish history, destroyed movements or caused major setbacks.
The key reason for this is that the Kurdish popular stance on Kirkuk — including its identity, its people and future — has always been strong and non-negotiable. This was necessary during the days of the revolution, when Kurds were harnessed by Saddam’s regime and international isolation. Today, all three are gone.
Looking at the position today, the leadership, political parties and the public are accepting nothing short of the implementation of article 140. Before that, it was nothing short of article 58 of the transitional administrative law.
Regardless of the historical facts and Kirkuk’s more recent history, there are new facts on the ground today that were placed by the former regime and preserved by the new Iraq. These new realities cannot be removed quickly, to say the least.
Strength is helpful when negotiating issues. But if you look around and see that yours is the least popular and practical position — regardless of whether you are right or not, whether you are strong or not, and whether you have the constitution on your side — you should rethink your stance.
Looking at the non-Kurdish position on Kirkuk, one can see that almost all of the players stand on one side while the Kurds are on the other.
The neighbors and other regional players seem to be actively working to prevent any KRG control over Kirkuk.
Neither the UN nor the US nor any other member of the international community practically support the implementation of 140 or support making Kirkuk as part of the Kurdistan Region. Many of their recommendation publicly and privately confirm this. If fact, some even put the blame on the Kurds for not being able to have Kirkuk.
“The Kurds had the opportunity to reverse this quickly in 2003, but they were too busy with their internal KDP-PUK competition and with looting,” according to one of the US army commanders in Kirkuk at the time.
All of this is happening while the Kurdish leadership is at logger horns with Baghdad over this issue and others. The reality is that implementing 140 is not going to be easy — if not impossible.
With every day that passes, resolving Kirkuk according to the Kurds’ demands gets more difficult. The reason is simple: with every day that passes, more is at stake in the Kurdistan region.
As a revolutionary movement, as an isolated group or in defiance of Saddam’s regime, it was possible to say, “Kirkuk or nothing”. The people would have supported such statement. Today, it is almost impossible to give this ultimatum — it simply isn’t practical. But this is not reflected in our rhetoric. Our mantra is still: all-or-nothing.
But our leaders today are responsible for changing that mentality.
When plan A is not working, then it would be appropriate to look for plan B; to identify it, adopt it and promote it among the people.
Otherwise, when the public is faced with the tough reality that it is impossible to win Kirkuk as had been promised, it will be the leaders who will be pummeled with accusations and blame for failing to deliver on their promises.
A controversial and problematic point in emerging democracies is the “historic legitimacy” of leaders. But it can be particularly helpful in situations such as Kirkuk.
In Palestine for example, Mahmoud Abbas today cannot get away with Yasser Arafat-type statements and actions. Similarly, today’s leaders in Kurdistan cannot get away with what Mullah Mustafa Barzani could say or do. And future leaders will not be able to get away with what Mam Jalal and Kak Masoud can do or say today about Kirkuk.
The sooner the Kirkuk issue has a plan B, the easier it will be to resolve its status once and for all – a feat that will prevent Kirkuk from becoming a source of instability for Kurdistan, Iraq and the Middle East.

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