Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Iraq:  Future Status of Kirkuk: Note for the Foreign Affairs Committee


  1.  Iraq's constitution requires a referendum to be held in Kirkuk before the end of 2007. The constitution is subject to a review process due to be completed by late 2007 so this requirement could be amended in the coming months.

  2.  Kirkuk has historically been an ethnically and religiously mixed city. It is of strategic and economic importance given its proximity to substantial oil fields. Iraqi Kurds assert that Kirkuk is predominantly a Kurdish city and want to see it become part of the Kurdistan Regional Government area. Other communities dispute this. The interference of past Iraqi governments with the demographic make-up of the city has complicated the issue.

  3.  Turkey, Iran and Syria are concerned about the impact of any change in Kirkuk's status on their own significant Kurdish populations.

  4.  As the UK, our key concern is to do what we can, working with Iraqi and international partners, to ensure that the process leading up to a referendum and the referendum itself is as fair and transparent as possible and that it reflects the views of the different communities concerned. This is essential if the outcome is to be accepted in Kirkuk, Iraq and beyond and to avoid contributing to instability or insecurity.



  5.  Kirkuk is an historically mixed region which includes significant populations of Kurds, Turkomans, Arabs, Assyrians, and Armenians. The last reasonably reliable census was in 1957. At that time the population of Kirkuk city was 388,939: 37.6% Turkoman, 33.3% Kurds and 22.5% Arabs. Figures for Kirkuk Province were 48.3% Kurds, 22.5% Arab, 21.4% Turkoman, with the remaining population Assyrian and others.

  6.  There are no reliable figures for the current population of Kirkuk city and province. April 2003 estimates put the population of the city of Kirkuk at between 700,000 and 850,000 with the population of the province as a whole at 1.2 million. 2004 estimates suggested a mix of 30% or more Kurds and Arabs, 21% or more Turkoman, with under 10% each for Assyrian and other populations.

  7  Successive Iraqi governments most notably Saddam's attempt to secure Arab control of northern oil fields by moving Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrians away from, and Arabs into, the region. Human Rights Watch and the US Committee for Refugees reported that somewhere between 120,000 and 200,000 Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrians were expelled from Kirkuk in the second half of the 1970s. This policy continued until 2003.

Constitutional requirement

  8.  Articles 53(A) and 58 of Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law outlined mechanisms to resolve border, property and employment disputes arising from earlier "Arabisation" policies [full text attached at Annex A]. These principles were subsequently incorporated into Article 140 of Iraq's current Constitution which provides:

    First: The executive authority shall undertake the necessary steps to complete the implementation of the requirements of all subparagraphs of Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law.

    Second: The responsibility placed upon the executive branch of the Iraqi Transitional Government stipulated in Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law shall extend and continue to the executive authority elected in accordance with this Constitution, provided that it accomplishes completely (normalisation and census and concludes with a referendum inKirkuk and other disputed territories to determine the will of their citizens), by a date not to exceed the 31 of December 2007.

  9.  The constitution does not set out the question to be put to voters in the referendum. Options for Kirkuk's future status, as we understand them include:

    —    joining with the KRG administered region of northern Iraq;

    —    special status as an independent province; and

    —    joining with (non-KRG) adjoining provinces to form a region.

  10.  Following formation of Iraq's new Government in 2006, Prime Minister Maliki announced in the Iraqi Government Work Programme a timeline for the process leading up to the referendum:

    —    normalisation process (to resolve property ownership disputes and to finalise the process of returning internal administrative boundaries) by 29 March 2007;

    —    beginning of the census 31 July 2007;

    —    referendum by 15 November 2007.

  11.  In July 2006 Prime Minister Maliki established a ten-member "Article 140 Committee" under the chairmanship of Justice Minister Al Shibli to take work forward. Five sub-committees (finance, fact-finding, secretariat, technical and monitoring) have been established and $200 million allocated for their work but, to date, only $20 million has been disbursed and substantive progress on the key issues has been slow, By spring 2006 the Iraq Property Claims Commission (now called the Commission for Real Property Dispute Resolution) had received over 130,000 claims and processed some 9,500 cases by reinstating ownership titles. But ethnic tension and the lack of a compensation programme have marred the process.

  12  To our knowledge no significant preparations for the census have taken place. Arrangements for the referendum, including monitoring arrangements, are also unclear. It will be important that implementing and monitoring organisations are credible to all stakeholders. We would like to see the involvement of Iraq's Electoral Commission and the UN.

  13.  Time for the process is passing quickly. Violence in and around Kirkuk has increased in recent months. While the Turkoman and Assyrians do not currently have significant armed militias the prospect of their taking up arms if they continue to feel left out of the process or disgruntled by the result of the referendum, remains real. Members of the Jaysh al Mahdi have been active in Kirkuk for some time.

Positions on the process

  14.  Iraqi Kurds are keen to restore Kirkuk to what they see as its rightful position at the heart of Kurdish northern Iraq. Since 2003 the KRG has been encouraging Kurds to "return" to Kirkuk from other parts of Iraq. They successfully campaigned with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq to ensure that returning Kurds were able to register and vote in elections in 2005. The Kurds have reportedly been offering financial and material incentives to attract returnees to the region.

  15.  Many Turkomans, and Arabs are concerned about what they view as Kurdish attempts to rig the process.

  16.  The Turkoman community is divided on Kirkuk. A significant number are deeply concerned about Kurdish ambitions for the region. The Iraq Turkoman Front has proposed that the referendum be postponed for 10 years and, together with representatives of the Arab community, suggested that local government in Kirkuk be shared between the communities: 32% Turkoman, 32% Arab, 30% Kurd and 60% others. This is unlikely to be acceptable to the Kurds.

  17.  Some Iraqis, including non-Kurds, suggest that some—although by no means all of the largely Shia Arabs who came to Kirkuk as a result of Arabisation policies might be willing to leave Kirkuk if the right sort of compensation were on offer. Most Sunni Arabs oppose the idea of Kirkuk and its oilfields falling under the control of the KRG, believing they will lose out on land and economic rights. Some fear that such a move could threaten the territorial integrity of Iraq.

  18.  Assyrians have been non-committal and have purposely avoided being drawn into supporting any particular position.

International Community

  19.  Turkey. Syria and Iran follow events surrounding Kirkuk with great interest, and are concerned about implications for their own Kardish communities, The Turks are deeply concerned about the using levels of violence in Kirkuk and are arguing that the referendum should be delayed a few years until there is greater security and stability They also advocate a process whereby all the communities represented in Kirkuk—each a mutually agreed outcome to be put to a referendum.

  20.  The Kurds will want to be reassured that the outcome of the referendum will be endorsed by the international community, and particularly by the US. The US, therefore, have a key influence over the process. The recent US Iraq Study Group report recommended that the referendum on Kirkuk be delayed beyond 2007. We would like to see the UN, in cooperation with the Government of Iraq, play a role in ensuring the integrity of the referendum process.

UK position

  21.  As the UK, our key concern is to do what we can to ensure that the process leading up to a referendum and the referendum itself is as fair and transparent as possible; that it reflects the views of the different communities concerned; that the result is thus widely accepted within Iraq and internationally and that any adverse impact on local and regional security is kept to a minimum. We are working with the Government of Iraq, the KRG and other Iraqi stakeholders and with the US, UN and other international partners to achieve this.

Iraq Policy Unit

February 2007

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