Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim speaks to Rudaw TV on August 16, 2017 in Erbil. Photo: Rudaw TV
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The governor of Kirkuk has said in very clear terms that the independence referendum that will be conducted by the Kurdistan Region this September will not determine the future of the disputed areas as defined by Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution.
President Masoud Barzani and Kurdistan’s top diplomat Falah Mustafa had each earlier hinted at a second referendum in these areas
, called Kurdistani by Erbil but claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
Governor Najmaldin Karim, who along with President Barzani is expected to meet with different components of Kirkuk before the September referendum, including Turkmens and Arabs, said that the September vote will change nothing, especially in Kirkuk.
“There will be no changes on the 26th [of September] when people wake up. The process had finished and votes would then be counted. I am sure the vote will be yes for Kurdistan’s independence,” Karim told Rudaw on Wednesday in an interview that will be released later in full.
“But with regard to Kirkuk in particular, we are committed by Article 140. Our Provincial Council sent a letter to Baghdad in June, after the [Kurdistan] flag was raised, calling for Article 140 to be implemented so that the referendum is held,” Karim continued.
The acting head of the the Provincial Council in Kirkuk Rebwar Talabani said they received a response to the letter by Baghdad which stipulated that they are unable to hold the referendum.
Article 140 concerns the disputed areas. It stipulated Baghdad take a series of steps to reverse the process of Arabization practiced by the former Iraqi regime in Kirkuk and other places such as Nineveh, and eventually hold a referendum that gives the people in these areas the option of joining the Kurdistan Region or remaining with Baghdad.
Article 140 passed its 2007 deadline without being implemented.
Governor Karim said they are committed to Article 140 so long as they are part of Iraq.
“We have given the guarantee [to other components] that the future of Kirkuk will not be determined by the referendum. The people of Kirkuk will decide the future of Kirkuk, i.e. the Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, Chaldeans and Assyrians. There is Article 140, and we will be committed to the Iraqi constitution so long as we are a part of Iraq. Article 140 encompasses places outside the (Kurdistan) Region, the places we consider part of Kurdistan.”
Governor Karim said that Kirkuk should have a special status when it joins the Kurdistan Region, or a future independent Kurdistan, calling on the Kurdistan Region to reassure that other components are dealt with like “partners,” and that their national and cultural rights such as education are protected.
He called for a transitional period, at least for the first 10 years, when these components can be given deputy positions within Kurdistan’s presidency, parliament and the government.
After this period, it may be possible that an Arab or Turkmen, through election, becomes the president of Kurdistan, or holds other senior positions.
The minorities in Kurdistan have 11 seats reserved through a quota system of the Kurdistan parliament's 111 seats; their languages and religions are recognized and protected by law.
There are Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens as well as Yezidis and Christians, among others, who are living in these areas, with some showing support for the referendum, while other have decided to express their opposition.
The Iraqi Turkmen Front, the largest for the Turkmens in Iraq, and a Christian armed group that is incorporated within the mainly-Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, the Babylon Movement, have separately asked the Kurdish government to exclude their areas from the independence referendum.
There are some Turkmen and Christian parties who are part of the Kurdish High Referendum Council who called for the referendum earlier in June, and some Arab tribes have said they are for the referendum in some areas in Nineveh that are under the control of the Peshmerga forces.
Asked whether the people in the disputed areas will have an option to say whether they want to be part of Kurdistan or not, President Barzani told American Foreign Policy magazine in June that they would not have the option in the September vote, but added “If they need another referendum, then maybe after that.”
Barzani said then that they will respect the will of people in the disputed areas in either case.