Academic journal article Parameters

Iraq's Kurds and Turkey: Challenges for US Policy

Academic journal article Parameters

Iraq's Kurds and Turkey: Challenges for US Policy

Article excerpt

In November 2003, Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, persuaded Washington to speed up the transfer of power to representative Iraqi bodies, not least as a response to the worsening security situation in the country. Bremer's initial proposals were partly abandoned in the face of opposition on the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and particularly from Iraq's Shiite leadership. The interim agreement eventually arrived at by the IGC's membership in early March 2004 determined that direct elections must take place by 31 January 2005. In early June 2004 the membership of Iraq's interim government to take over on 1 July was announced.

Given that eight of the 33-member interim government are ethnic Kurds, these arrangements suggest a secure place in the evolving post-Saddam Iraq for the Kurds of northern Iraq. Furthermore, the interim constitution, or Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), that emerged from the Iraqi Governing Council in March, in accordance with which Iraq is expected to be governed until a permanent constitution is drawn up by an elected National Assembly during 2005, is also generally regarded as favorable to the Kurds. (1) It recognizes the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as the official government for the interim period of the three ethnically Kurdish northern Iraqi provinces over which it has presided since 1992, and the federal nature of Iraq's transitional administration. Kurdish is designated as one of Iraq's two official languages, along with Arabic. Even in light of the decree banning the various militias in Iraq announced by the new interim government in early June, the Kurdish peshmerga, the largest of Iraq's private forces, will be permitted to function as an internal security and police force in the KRG zone. (2) In any case, it is doubtful the decree will be enforceable for some time. The Transitional Administrative Law gives the green light to some managed resettlement back to their place of origin both of Kurds displaced by Saddam's "Arabization" of the north and of Arabs (mostly Shiite) who moved there as a consequence of it, and affords considerable scope for the primacy of local law above federal law. It also states that a referendum on a permanent constitution would fail if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates--principally a reference to the KRG zone--were to reject it.

The fate of Kirkuk, on the other hand, is deferred until after a permanent constitution has been settled and a census held in the region, and the Transitional Administrative Law permits up to a maximum of three of the 18 provinces to join together to form a "region," thus prohibiting the formation of a larger KRG zone. Nevertheless, the Shiites balked at signing the interim constitution, largely as a consequence of their opposition to concessions made to the Kurds. (3) Ankara too reiterated to Washington its oft-stated concerns about Kurdish aspirations. (4) There also have been indications of increased Shiite and Turkmen armed militancy in Kirkuk, (5) not least by the followers of Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr. (6) Concessions the Kurds feel they have made appear to have been insufficient to assuage the doubts of others.

Prior to Ambassador Bremer's November 2003 plan, the Kurdish preference had been to first entrench federal arrangements guaranteeing Kurdish autonomy before the introduction of democracy into Iraq. Their reasoning was clear. Kurds make up at most one-fifth of the Iraqi population, and are greatly outnumbered by the Arab majority. Shiite Arabs alone constitute around 60 percent of the Iraqi population. This demography explained initial Shiite support for, and Kurdish opposition to, direct elections in the formation of the Transitional National Assembly. (7) Iraq's permanent constitution will now be determined only after nationwide elections have taken place, and it is unclear that these interim arrangements will be carried over in light of the continued unhappiness of the Shiite leadership in particular with their terms. …

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