Uneasiness grows over Kurdish leader’s remarks on oil-rich Kirkuk

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Azzaman, June 28, 2014

As battles rage against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq, the fate of the oil-rich city Kirkuk is still high on the agenda of various Iraqi factions.

Kurdish pershmerga forces are currently in full control of the city and remarks by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani that his troops are there to stay have drawn criticism and condemnation from Arabs whether Sunnis or Shiites.

The Shiite-Sunni sectarian divide is threatening the very existence of Iraq as a state, however the factions seem to be united when the matter concerns Kirkuk.

Barzani has said that a paragraph in the constitution in relation to Kirkuk and other so-called areas was no longer valid in the wake of ISIS routing Iraqi army divisions in northern and western Iraq.

Under the constitution the fate of Kirkuk and other disputed areas must be decided through consensus and negotiations and never by the use of force.

Most of the Arabs in the Province of Kirkuk and its provincial center, the city of Kirkuk, are Sunni Arabs and their leaders have expressed anger bordering on condemnation of Barzani’s remarks.

Saleem al-Jibouri said the constitutional paragraph calling for the resolution of territorial disputes with Kurds clearly “states that these issues must be solved through a process of dialogue and mutual understanding” and not through the use of force or military troops.

Other Arab leaders said the statement by Barzani and his political and military stances over Kirkuk “are embarrassing” since they come at a critical moment in which the whole country is in turmoil.

Jibouri said the Kurds should not take advantage of the situation and apply the constitution as they wish.

“Paragraph 140 (over Kirkuk) cannot be applied through the barrel of the gun. The constitution does not allow the use of military force to implement any of its rules and compels all parties to adhere to dialogue and understanding,” Jibouri said.

Arab tribal chieftains and representatives in Kirkuk broadly reject Kurdish control of the city and have issued statements denouncing Kurdish moves to bypass the constitution.

However, there has been no official comment so far from the central government in Baghdad, though a few deputies from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s parliamentary bloc have strongly condemned Kurdish tactics and political statements.

Kurdish forces were deployed in Kirkuk following the withdrawal of Iraqi troops. Kurdish leaders then said they were trying to protect the city and its inhabitants from attacks by ISIS.

“No one can impose its conditions and its own status quo on Kirkuk under the pretext of applying paragraph 140 of the constitution,” said an Arab source refusing to be named out of security concerns.