Hamdi Malik (AL-MONITOR) reports:
As talk of an independence referendum for Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) grows, Iran's role is becoming more visible, especially that of Qasem Soleimani, the powerful commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force. But it appears that this role is retreating in the face of Kurdish ambitions for more independence.
Kurdish media outlets reported April 10 that Soleimani had met senior leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Sulaimaniyah. Rudaw, a media organization aligned with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), reported April 11 that the goal of the visit was to prevent the KRG from holding an independence referendum.
But it appears that PUK officials were not the only parties to the meeting. Soleimani had discussed the poll with KRG President Massoud Barzani in Erbil. Soleimani is Iran's top official in Iraq, according to KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. As such, he has had many relationships with Kurdish figures, especially in the PUK and the Kurdish Movement for Change (Gorran), since the 1990s.
Iraqi Kurdish political forces recently have increased their calls for a referendum on Kurdish independence. The leadership of the KDP has said such a poll will be held this year. The KDP and the PUK agreed to set up a joint panel April 2 to decide how the poll would be run and set a date for it.
Iran is against such a step and sees an independent KRG as a red line, something KDP Secretary-General Fadel Mirani dismissed on April 11, saying, "We don't need permission from anyone to hold a referendum." But it is impossible to ignore the clout of neighboring states opposed to Kurdish independence. Iran especially enjoys serious influence over the PUK and Gorran in Sulaimaniyah, which is close to the Iranian border.
It's still the big issue, it has been for over a decade.
Will the KRG move from semi-autonomous to full autonomy?
Another question swings with that: Will Kirkuk go with the KRG or go with the central-based government of Baghdad?
That second question is the easier to document.
Second Clause of Article 140 of Iraq's Constitution:
The responsibility placed upon the executive branch of the Iraqi Transitional Goverment 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 (normalization and census and concludes with a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to dtermine the will of their citizens), by a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007.
Nouri al-Maliki had two terms asprime minister of IRaq and he was not in compliance with the Constitution he took an oath to uphold.
Hayder al-Abadi's term has one more year on it.
Maybe he'll get a second term, maybe he won't.
But his term has not been rushed by any need to uphold the Constitution.
In addition to the Constitution binding Nouri on Article 140, in November 2010, Nouri signed a personal contract with the other political leaders. Since the voters didn't want him, he didn't win a second term as prime minister. A contract broked by the US government, the Erbil Agreement, gave him a second term. The White House wanted Nouri to have a second term but the Iraqi people didn't feel the same way. To get around the results of the 2010 election and the country's Constitution, the White House brokered this embarrassing and extra-legal contract. In it, Nouri makes promises to get that second term. One of those promises? That he would finally implement Article 140.
KRG President Massoud Barzani spoke April 5, 2012 at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (see the April 5th and April 6th snapshots).
President Massoud Barzani: Article 140 is a Constitutional Article and it needed a lot of discussions and talks until we have reached this. This is the best way to solve this problem. It's regarding solving the problems of the territories that have been detached from Kurdistan Region. In fact, I do not want to call it "disputed areas" because we do not have any disputes on that. For us it is very clear for that. But we have shown upmost flexibility in order to find the legal and the Constitutional solution for this problem. And in order to pave the way for the return of these areas, according to the Constitution and the basis of law and legally to the Kurdistan Region. And we have found out that there is an effort to evade and run away from this responsibility for the last six years in implementing this Constitutional Article. And I want to assure you that implementing this Constitutional Article is in the interest of Iraq and in the interest of stability. There are people who think that time would make us forget about this. They are wrong. Time would not help forget or solve the problem. These are Kurdish countries, part of Kurdistan and it has to return to Kurdistan based on the mechanism that has been stipulated in the Constitution. And at the end of the day, as the Constitution stipulates, it's going back to what the people want to determine. So there is a referendum for the people of these areas and they will decide. If the people decide to joing Kurdistan Region, they're welcome and if the people decide not to, at that time, we will look at any responsibility on our shoulders so people would be held responsible for their own decisions.
Five years later, the fate of Kirkuk remains undetermined and Article 140 has still not been implemented.
Yusuf Selman Inanc (DAILY SABAH) offers:
The crisis comes at a time when the KRG has declared a referendum will be held this year under the observance of the U.N. and the central Iraqi government has not gained any remarkable success against [the Islamic State] without the support of the KRG's Peshmerga. While the Iraqi central government seemed to address the issue imperturbably, Iran and Turkey said it was not acceptable and would lead to a new crisis. Since then, the Turkmen population took to the streets, several official statements were made and the KRG said a referendum would be held for the annexation of Kirkuk. KRG representatives, remaining silent on Turkish and Iranian comments, audaciously responded to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's statements condemning Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim said last week saying, "If they [Baghdad] find it unconstitutional, they can go to the court of the Federal Judiciary Authority to appeal the decision."
Still, it is a question of why Kirkuk matters so much and why both Turkey and Iran, having conflicting interests in the region, oppose the decision. Primarily, the historic city has a strategic location and is home to Iraq's largest oil fields. Posing a dispute between Baghdad and Irbil, the share of the oil revenue is considered to be the major reason for KRG's precipitous move to declare Kirkuk as coming under its section. The central government and KRG were in dispute over the portion of the revenue to be allocated for KRG's treason. While Irbil was eager to sell the oil via Turkey to the world markets, Baghdad has made obstacles and even stopped the pumping of oil a few times. The oil facility, which can pump as much as 150,000 barrels per day according to Iraq's state-run North Oil Company, 350,000 according to the KRG and have 8.7 billion barrels reserve according to the U.S. Energy Department, has become a matter of internal conflict in the KRG. Also "President Massoud Barzani, based in the capital of Erbil, began independent exports of oil from Kirkuk in 2014 but cut a deal with Baghdad last year to equally split the revenues. The deal has been opposed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is dominant in the area of Kirkuk and is the historic adversary of Barzani's Irbil-based ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)," Reuters reported last month.
One time US Ambassador to IRaq Chris Hill was always an idiot. We covered the confirmation hearing and it was obvious then -- refer to the March 25, 2009 snapshot and the March 26th snapshot -- the hearing was the 25th, we spent two days on it. You can also refer to Third's "Chris Hill sings 'Much More'" (March 29, 2009). He's an idiot. He showed up for his confirmation hearing knowing nothing. He had food stains on his shirt, his hair was uncombed and this was when he was trying to make a good impression and get the job. See Isaiah's "The Pig-Pen Ambassador." "Just an old fashioned land dispute," Hill dubbed Kirkuk in his Senate confirmation hearing -- oil-rich Kirkuk. He understood nothing. He had no background in the region. He didn't even have language skills. He never should have been nominated, let alone confirmed.
And maybe if someone qualified had been sought instead of Hill, the country wouldn't be as bad off as it currently is?
Meanwhile, day 187 of The Mosul Slog.
AFP reported yesterday, "An ambush by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) killed 10 members of the security forces Sunday in western Iraq, where federal and other forces recently ramped up an anti-jihadist offensive."
ISIS is supposed to be on the run -- but it's attacking the military and attacking the police.