While the Kirkuk Referendum isn't expected to take place until December 2007, it is creating waves within Kurdistan, Iraq and their neighbors. Why the flurry of activity now? The Iraq Study Report recommended that the referendum be delayed, citing the the area as a “powderkeg”. The Republic of Turkey wants the referendum delayed, and even the Iraqi government is considering the same. This panics Kurdish officials in the region.
Kirkuk is interesting in itself. For one, it is rich, hosting a lucrative oil supply. Secondly, the area is mixed ethnically: Kurds and Turkmen. While the Turkmen population used to be higher (and more concentrated) evolving demographics show Kurds as the new majority. The referendum would have Kirkuk classify itself as wanting to be a part of Iraq major or part of the semi-independent Northern Iraq Kurdistan.
Regional players are very important in this conflict. Turkey is opposed to Kirkuk being part of the semi-independent Kurdistan, stating that they are only looking out for their Turkmen brethren. More potently, Kirkuk – being formally a part of the semi-independent Kurdistan – could possibly lead to an independent Kurdistan. This threatens Turkey in respect to control its Kurdish population and Kurdish rebel violence stemming from the PKK. Additionally, an independent Kurdistan would threaten to destabilize Iraq, Iran, Syria and well as Turkey. As you can see, there is a lot riding on this referendum.
How do the Turkmen feel about this? As From Holland to Kurdistan reports:
In the last KRG Parliament session about Kerkuk, a Turkmen MP made a speech in Parliament. It showed the participation of Turkmen in the Kurdish region. This was shown on the Kurdish channel Kurdistan TV.
He said: “I will say this in Turkish so Turks understand this, we are Turkmen and not Turks”. He also said Turkey is doing more damage to the Turkmeni people than any good.
Also a Turkmen politician asked Turkey to stop interfering with their business, he said why is Turkey talking about Turkmeni rights after we got those rights and not when Saddam was oppressing us?”
Additionally the Iraq Solidarity Campaign reports that the Turkmen are wary of the Turks. For a more Turkish views on the Turkmen case of Kirkuk see here. In any event, the Turks are actively involved in Kirkuk as Kurdish Aspect illustrates:
Last week Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Iraq and said “Turkey will not sit idle if the Iraqi Kurds have control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.” That brought strong criticism by a Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) spokesman who said “we have heard for some time meaningless statements by some Turkish officials with their implied threats and we want to remind them that the Ottoman Empire had fallen a long time ago and Iraq is not part of Turkey,” told Voice of Iraq.
In my opinion, all these threats and warnings, in addition to wanting to destabilize Kurdish achievements in Iraq, Erdogan is trying to please the chauvinist nationalist and the military power to secure the presidential post in Turkey. The threats and changes in Erdogan’s views from the beginning of his term until now are directly tied to the upcoming election in Turkey.
No matter, what happens in Iraq with regards to article 140 it is up to the Iraqi people to decide on the future of Kirkuk and not Mr. Gul, Mr. Erdogan or the Turkish State.
Iraqi Kurdistan criticizes the findings of the Iraq Study Group:
(this) report is ignoring the fact that the Iraqi constitution has adopted federalism and the people of Iraq want clearly only weak central control from Baghdad. It is outrageous that this unfortunate report is obliging to Turkey, the very country which let America down at the time of need, by calling to postpone the article 140 of Iraqi permanent constitution which paves the way for a just solution for the issue of Kirkuk and other ethnicly cleansed cities of Iraqi Kurdistan. To alienate the Kurds, the only real fiends of America in Iraq, will bring Iraq definitely into civil war and paves the way for disintegration of Iraq, for no Kurdish leader, regardless of their degree of friendship to America, will dare to abandon the issue of Kirkuk.
Mr Baker and Mr Hamilton and their study group totally ignored the Kurdish factor in Iraq and taken them for granted. All the miserable wars of saddam started from his policies of Arabization and maltreatment of Kurdish citizens, and the Kurds will not allow any central government to persecute them again, and will certainly resist any foreign intervention, especially Turkish one, in Iraqi Kurdistan affairs.
Hiwakan calls for an end to Turkish involvement:
We are ready to do [a lot] in UK at least in the event of any intervention, pressure and worse from Turkey to convince the UK government to back the TRUE right of the Kurds all around the world and specifically in Kirkuk where we fought the coalition forces against Saddam when the Turks didn't even allow them to use their land and were against the war on Saddam!
I am sure almost all European countries have enought southern Kurdistan Kurds together with their northen Kurdistani Kurds who are happy to express their opinion in different forms to force the governments to put pressure on Turkey to mind its own 20M Kurds and remind them again that Ottoman reign in OVER! That was your golden era and its most loyal nation was the Kurds… we HOPEFULLY have learned our lesson!
Lets see, who will win the battle for Kirkuk… in other words Kurdish Independence War!
Rasti warns about the consequences of Turkey intervening to the level they have threatened (occupation of Northern Iraq):
The best outcome of such an occupation would be the unification of the Kurdish people across all borders and the ensuing slaughter of Mehmetciks, but practically speaking, I don't believe we are at the point of such a scheme being put into place. The US wants to maintain control of the energy resources of Iraq, including those of South Kurdistan, Mûsil, and Kerkuk. The US knows that if the Ankara regime occupies, it will not leave, thus jeopardizing the control over South Kurdistan's energy resources. A Turkish occupation would most likely cause Iran to react in order to rebalance the regional power, possibly leading to a seizure–even if a soft one–of Southern Iraq and its energy resources. At the top domain level, we could be sure to see more regional involvement by the SCO, since Iran has observer status in that organization, causing problems for both Turkey and the US as they hope to consolidate their own power in the Central Asian republics.
This will not be the end of discussion on the Kirkuk referendum (and definitely not the end of GV posts on the subject). What we are witnessing is the beginning of a potentially explosive situation, or at least a case-study in political geography.