11 March 2004

Premature rejoicing in Kirkuk

The outpouring of Kurdish sentiment in a volatile city which is also a stronghold of resistance to the Coalition Provisional Authority is certain to worry the administration in Baghdad.

Far from handing Kirkuk back to the Kurds, the interim constitution leaves the issue unresolved, as is the issue of who should be able to return to reclaim property in the city.

A western official said: 'They are going have a nasty hangover when they wake up in the morning.

'They clearly have not read the new law carefully enough.'

Perhaps most worrying was the belief of many Kurds yesterday that the designation of Kurdistan as a separate federal entity with its own parliament and an effective veto in negotiations for a future permanent constitution represented the first step towards an independent Kurdistan, an aspiration that the leaders of the PUK and the other main party, the Kurdistan Democratic party, have tried to dampen down.

The scale of the celebrations and their nature are certain to be regarded with deep suspicion by the Kurds' Arab neighbours in Iraq and by neighbouring countries, including Turkey.

The actual provision is Article 53:

(A) The Kurdistan Regional Government is recognized as the official government of the territories that were administered by the that government on 19 March 2003 in the governorates of Dohuk, Arbil, Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk, Diyala and Neneveh. The term "Kurdistan Regional Government" shall refer to the Kurdistan National Assembly, the Kurdistan Council of Ministers, and the regional judicial authority in the Kurdistan region.

The city of Kirkuk is not in the KRG's territory because it was in Saddam's hands on 19 March when the coalition invaded. This will be a major problem throughout the transition period. Clearly it would have been better if the TAL had not been made in private without consultation of any kind outside the closed circles of the IGC and the CPA. The Kurds of Kirkuk had not read the law because the CPA and the IGC did not permit them to read it.

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