Kirkuk is an ethnically-mixed province.
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region - The Kurdish provincial representatives in Kirkuk say they will start marathon negotiations with political groups and community leaders about the anticipated referendum on the future of the oil-rich city.
Muhammad Kamal, a Kurdish party official in the ethnically diverse province said they hoped Kirkuk would actively take part in the public vote and decide to integrate with the Kurdistan Region.
The Kurdish authorities have announced that the referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region will most likely be held in November or before the end of this year.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has said that the referendum will include almost all the so-called disputed territories, which include Khanaqin in the south, Shingal in the west and Kirkuk, along with many other areas.
But while the referendum in the Kurdistan Region will be about breaking away from Iraq, the vote in the disputed territories will also be about whether or not they want to stay with Kurdistan.
“We hope the people of Kirkuk decide to stay with the Kurdistan region and break away from Iraq and this is why we start negotiating with other groups,” Kamal told Rudaw.
Just slightly over 50 percent of the population in Kirkuk consists of Kurds, while Turkmen, Arabs and other groups make up the rest of the population, in a city which over the past century has been at the heart of virtually all negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil.
Faridun Abdulqadir, a top Kurdish negotiator who took part in several Kurdish-Iraqi meetings in 1983 with the then Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, says that the deadlock always emerged when talks centered on the future of Kirkuk.
“Saddam used to say that if Kurds had Kirkuk, they would break away from Iraq, which is why he never accepted Kurdish demands regarding the city,” Abdulqadir told Rudaw.
But with the political and financial crises deepening in the country, and while Kurds have virtually been administering Kirkuk since early 2014, it seems unlikely for Baghdad to effectively block a reintegration of Kirkuk with the Kurdistan Region.
Kirkuk governor Najmaldin Karim said recently that the province was “ready to decide whether it wants to be an autonomous region or be integrated with the Kurdistan Region.”
The powerful Turkmen groups in the city, however, say that they would not oppose a ‘yes’ vote if Kirkuk decided to integrate with Kurdistan, but they have concerns about what they see as the deepening political rifts in the region.
“If integrating with the Kurdistan Region serves the best interest of Kirkuk, then of course we will not oppose it,” said Tahsin Muhammad Ali, a member of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF).
“But Kurdistan itself is in economic crisis and there are tensions among the political parties there, so perhaps we should look for a judicial solution for Kirkuk,” he added.