The Newroz fire was lit in Kirkuk on March 20, 2017, under the flags of Iraq and Kurdistan. File photo: Rudaw TV
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region — Because of the unresolved issue Kirkuk, Kurdish parties have not yet made up their mind as to which coalition in Baghdad they will side with.
“We have called for Kirkuk to return to its previous normal state, for the military state in Kirkuk to end, and for formation of joint forces of Peshmerga and Iraqi forces like the pre-ISIS phase,” said Khalid Shwani, a PUK leadership member.
Kirkuk is a main point in the agenda that the PUK and KDP have submitted to Iraqi parties in Baghdad for talks on the formation of a new federal government.
“Both Iraqi coalitions have said they are prepared to talk and resolve the problem of Kirkuk, and we have responded to them. Discussions on this matter are ongoing. We will reach an agreement with the party that has a better solution and meets our conditions,” Shwani said.
Kurdish parties have been arguing Kirkuk is a Kurdish city with an overwhelming Kurdish majority population, although the city governor and head of provincial council along with a number of other Kurdish officials have been living in exile since the events of October 16.
Iraqi Prime Minister has repeatedly and flatly rejected disputed areas being on the negotiating table in government formation talks; instead, he says the issue should be resolved by federal and regional governments.
But the problem of Kirkuk has not only been with Baghdad. Kurdish parties have been in disagreement among themselves, especially the KDP and PUK.
The KDP is not prepared to return to Kirkuk without a political agreement, and the PUK thinks the KDP’s refusal to return to the city has allowed the Arabization of the province to continue under different pretexts.
“In the recent meeting between the KDP and PUK, a decision was made to form a joint committee to activate the provincial council, elect a new governor and resolve the problems,” Shwani said.
Kirkuk’s status was supposed to be settled by a referendum in 2007. Waves of conflict, land and population disputes have prevented it from taking place.
“Kirkuk and Article 140 feature the main points of the joint agenda to negotiate with Iraqi parties. They are our condition for joining any coalition to form the new Iraqi government,” Shwani added.
On October 9, 2017, the Kirkuk provincial council met in the city of Kirkuk. A week later, the Iraqi Army and Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitias attacked and captured the city.
Shwani revealed the two dominate Shiite blocs the Kurds have spoken to in Baghdad have expressed some readiness to resolve the issue of Kirkuk.
“The way to resolve the problem is important to us, but they don’t go into details of how to resolve the problem. They say they are prepared to form joint forces to run the security of the city and jointly run the province. But they don’t touch on details of doing this when we ask for details.”
Kurds do not want to simply send Peshmerga forces into Kirkuk under the command of the Iraqis. Kurdish authorities prefer a total return, including vital security and intelligence units which allow the Peshmerga to operate in familiar areas.
“The city is about to turn into a big village because they don’t have the mind to run a city,” Shwni cautioned.
In Kirkuk, the PUK won six seats in the parliamentary election on May 12. The KDP did not run in the “disputed city.” Arab and Turkmen lists won three seats apiece, while the Christians held their minority quota seat.