The Kurdistan flag was replaced by the Iraqi one on Kirkuk’s Peshmerga statue, guarding over the northern gate to the city, when control of the city was taken over by Iraqi forces in October 2017. Photo: Hiwa Hussamadin/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The KDP and PUK are in a row over the issue of Kirkuk’s governor. Each party blames the other for the situation in the disputed province and do not agree on how to move forward.
“The PUK is unilaterally making decisions in Kirkuk and is about to repeat the mistake of October 16th,” Mohammed Khurshid, head of KDP’s branch in Kirkuk, told Rudaw.
The PUK is in talks with Arabs and Turkmen in the province with the aim of convening the provincial council in order to select a governor.
Rakan al-Jabouri, a Sunni Arab, has been filling in as interim governor for the past year. He was appointed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi after his Kurdish predecessor Najmaldin Karim was ousted from the post in the wake of the independence referendum and federal forces taking over Kirkuk and other disputed areas.
The KDP has refused to return to Kirkuk since last October, calling the province “occupied.” The party’s stance is that it is more important to normalize the situation than jostling for positions, said Khurshid.
"Whoever you choose as the governor of Kirkuk, whether KDP, PUK, or any other one, under these circumstances, when total authority is in the hands of Kirkuk Operations Command, then he won't be able to do anything,” argued Khurshid.
Efforts in Kirkuk needed to be accompanied by efforts from Baghdad to normalize things, he added. "It is a difficult thing. It requires effort from all sides, but more importantly, the total unity of Kurdistani parties."
The KDP and PUK have a consultative committee to jointly formulate strategies. Though spats over elections and the Iraqi presidency have stalled efforts, Khurshid says the KDP is ready to sit down and talk about how to resolve the Kirkuk problem.
Resolving federal-related issues in Kirkuk requires Kurdish unity in Baghdad, he added.
He warned against the PUK convening the provincial council when it is in the minority, saying Arabs and Turkmen might backpedal on whatever promises they made and strip the Kurds of everything. He believes it is better for the Kurdish parties to find solutions among themselves first.
Rawand Mala Mahmood, deputy head of PUK’s Kirkuk office, believes the KDP is at fault in Kirkuk.
All disputed territories "are equally occupied," not just Kirkuk, he said.
"I believe Kirkuk won't be solved by saying it is occupied and then departing," he said.
Kurds need to save the “lost achievements” in Kirkuk, apart from party rivalries, he said.
"Some party issues are preventing us from electing a governor," said Mahmood, pointing to members of the provincial council who are in Erbil and unwilling to join a meeting.
He believes the root of the problem is the independence referendum, saying they had implored the Kurdish leadership not to hold the vote in Kirkuk.
"The things that happened in Kirkuk are due to the Kurds themselves. Kurds created this situation," he said.
The KDP needs to apologize to the people of the disputed territories and show it is sorry, especially for how it implemented a "regional, international plot" against Kurdistan in losing the disputed territories, he said.
Slandering each other doesn't serve the people, added Mahmood.
Noting that the KDP fought for the Iraqi presidency, he wondered why it doesn’t “come to fight for the Kurds in Kirkuk?”
"We feel there is a great bluffing,” he said, noting that his party has made efforts to regain positions in Kirkuk and the KDP could do the same.
"I would like to put things as they are. This is a partisan issue,” he concluded.