Monday, 14 May 2012, 06:58 GMT
Kirkuk: a Kurdish or Iraqi identity?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks to his cabinet ministers./ PRESS PHOTO

The Kurdish Globe
By Salih Waladbagi--Erbil

KRG insists on the Kurdish "identity" of Kirkuk, Baghdad disagrees

An official Kurdish source from the Iraqi Parliament responded to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's quotes, saying: "Kirkuk has a Kurdish identity."

The Kurdish official response came after Maliki's quote during a ministerial meeting that kicked off in Kirkuk, the oil-rich multiethnic city. He said Kirkuk has "an Iraqi identity." However, the Kurdish ministers of the Iraqi government boycotted the meeting.

Mohssin Sadoon, deputy to head of the Kurdistani party in Iraqi Parliament, in a televised interview, said Kirkuk is a Kurdish province of Kurdistan, in particular, and is an Iraqi province in general.

He said Kurds are the majority, Turkmen the second largest ethnic group, Christians the third and Arabs the fourth in the city.

He remarked that the Iraqi prime minister's visit to Kirkuk was at an inappropriate time. Adding: "If his intentions are good, he should implement Article 140 [of the Iraqi Constitution] which is the key point in solving disputes between the regional and central government."

In contrast to expectations of Kurdish politicians, Maliki received a warm reception from the city's Arabs.

A member of Kirkuk's Arab Political Council, who talked on the condition of anonymity, commented that Maliki's meeting was a clear message to Kurds that the central government can assert its influence or power in every area of Iraq, even in Kirkuk.

He added the consequence of Maliki's visit will be in favor of Kurds above Arabs, adding: "The visit is a turning point for resolving the disputes between Kirkuk's ethnic groups."

However, many Kurdish political commentators and analysts described the visit as controversial and insisted the KRG should take this step into consideration.

Ako Mohammed, editor in chief of Rudaw news agency, suggested the Kurdistan Regional Government should hold a ministerial session in Kirkuk, of course, in response to Maliki's meeting.

In addition, Shekh Latif, a Kurdish member of Iraqi Parliament, in a televised interview, criticized Kurdish political leadership for not highlighting Kirkuk's problems.

Ashwaq Jaf, another Kurdish Iraqi MP from the Kurdistani party, said Maliki had a political purpose behind his visit.

She furthermore insisted the timing of the meeting in Kirkuk was not appropriate because of the chilly ties between the central and regional governments.

"The meeting should have taken part in Diwaniya, not in Kirkuk. Kirkuk is considered a disputed territory and Kurds consider the city as the heart of Kurdistan," she said.

According to political commentators, PM Maliki wants to draw Kirkuk into political conversations and described this action as "very dangerous."

Maliki, during the ministerial meeting, said Kirkuk has an "Iraqi identity." He said the problems should be solved peacefully and not by force.

He also described the city and its problems as "special," remarking the central government does not want to target Kurds.

He also rejected the idea of using force to solve the pending disputes with the KRG and said: "I am against shooting of even a bullet."

There are several significant pending heated discussions between the Iraqi government and the KRG, particularly over oil revenue, Peshmarga forces and finances. Recently, the most heated discussion was over handing over Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who was accused of managing death squads.

Maliki and eight ministers of his cabinet, which didn't include any Kurds, arrived in Kirkuk on the early hours of Tuesday, May 8.

Kirkuk, a multiethnic oil-rich city, is considered as one of the most significant disputed areas. In 2003, many of the original Kurdish displaced citizens returned to the city to reclaim occupied land from Arabs, who were brought there through a process of Arabization by the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein.