Friday, March 25, 2011

A Possible Power Sharing Deal Between Kurds And Turkmen Could Upset The Status Quo In Iraq’s Tamim Province

Tamim's Governor Tafa who is stepping down
Tensions are rising in Iraq’s Tamim province. Not only has a contingent of peshmerga moved into new positions in the governorate, but the governor and head of the provincial council recently resigned as well. This has set off worries that local Turkmen and Kurds have come to a power sharing agreement, which Arabs feel threatened by.

On March 15, 2011 it was reported that the Governor of Tamim Abdul Rahman Mustafa Fata and the head of the provincial council Rizkar Ali were resigning. Both are Kurds from the Kurdish Alliance. Fata was picked to be governor back in 2003 by delegates chosen by the United States. Because the Americans saw Iraq in ethnosectarian terms and believed that the Kurds were a majority in the governorate, they gave them more votes in selecting the governor. Ali on the other hand was elected in the 2005 provincial elections, and held office since then because parliament could never agree upon rules for holding local balloting there since then.

The controversy began when their replacements were announced. The governorship was to go to Najmuddin Karim, a Turkmen doctor with dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship. Hassan Torhan, another Turkmen, is said to be the candidate for head of the provincial council. Both Karim and Torhan are from the Kurdish Alliance. The directors in the governorate are also supposed to be replaced. Media reports say that this was all part of a deal between Kurds and Turkmen to share the top positions in Tamim. Turkmen have their own political parties, but if they were won over by this move they, along with the Kurds, would be a solid majority, and could have greater control over local decisions.

The Arab bloc in the provincial council immediately rejected any Kurd-Turkmen deal. They said they refused to accept the resignation of Fata and Ali, and demanded that the 2007 power sharing agreement be followed. In December 2007, all the major parties in Tamim signed onto a U.S.-led plan for the major posts and positions in the government to be split between them. The Kurds would get the governor, Arabs the deputy governor, and the Turkmen the head of the provincial council. The agreement has never been fully implemented however because of on-going disputes between all the major parties.

This is just the latest argument in a divided province. Despite the problems, the major groups have kept their bickering in the political field, and have maintained a rough status quo between them despite all the talk of Kirkuk being a flashpoint in Iraq. The movement of peshmerga fighters into new positions in February, and a possible deal between the Kurds and Turkmen for the two top posts in the governorate in March however, threaten to unravel that consensus. The peshmerga are probably only in Tamim temporarily, but an agreement between the Kurds and Turkmen could leave the Arabs out in the cold. There is no confirmation of negotiations between the first two groups, and the Turkmen parties haven’t made any major comments as well. This could just boil down to rumors, which are rampant in the Iraqi press. Still, it is something to keep an eye on in the future.

SOURCES

Ali, Ahmed and Knights, Michael, “Kirkuk: A Test for the International Community,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/14/09

Alsumaria, “Kirkuk Arab bloc refuses Iraq political agreements,” 3/16/11
- “Kurds, Turkman to share Iraq Kirkuk local appointments,” 3/16/11

Barzanji, Yahya, “2 Kurdish officials resign in volatile Iraqi city,” Associated Press, 3/15/11

Hiltermann, Joost, “Spoils of Babylon,” National Interest, January/February 2010

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09

Mardini, Ramzy, “Implications o the New Kurdish-Sunni Alliance for Security in Iraq’s Ninawa Governorate,” Jamestown Foundation, 1/14/08

Rostam, Nabaz, “Kirkuk governor and council leader resign,” AK News, 3/15/11

Al-Sabah, “President: fair posts’ distribution in Kirkuk,” 2/4/08

Travernise, Sabrina, “After The War: Northern Iraq; U.S. Detains 5 Suspected Baath Loyalists at Kirkuk Elections,” New York Times, 5/25/03

1 comment:

Steve the Planner said...

Joel:

Great article.

The pending configuration has several elements of sound compromise, and, as usual, challenges.

First, Arrapha (Ancient Kirkuk City), dates to the Assyrians, yet has had a strong Turkmen association for generations (even more than are there now since the various pogroms and resettlements against the Turkmen under the Baath) back to the seventh century.

Second, strengthening the position of Turkmen within the hereditary seat of Turkmenli provides some measure, for the first time, of a reasonable seat/homeland/safe zone for Turkmen, consistent with broader interests.

Third, the issue of Arab threat is complex in that Arab, Turkmen and Kurd are not always so mutually exclusive on the ground as it might seem on a bumper sticker definition, and, whether Arabs would actually be threatened by this combination is a function of actions and policies yet to emerge.

Finally, there is no deep history of Turkmen implementing atrocities against Arabs (or anyone else) in recent times, suggesting that a minority in that province would not, simply by their minority status, be at any particular risk of loss of rights, property, or safety.

Certainly, a major effort to reverse prior Turkmen property losses, or implementation of Arab resettlements,might, if mismanaged, pose a serious threat to Arabs, but no immediate impact/risk of itself.

Realistically, Kirkuk, under this form of multi-party accomodation serves, like Maryland (The "Free State") did during the US colonial days, as a more open door for Catholics, Quakers and others of a more diverse background. It also provides some transitional buffer between KRG and non-KRG areas.

No doubt, the special area provisions in the new constitution will come to the fore, and that, behind all else, this step is a plus to Turkish/Kurd diplomacy.

Ominous is a term best left to the interpretation of the individual observer.