Kirkuk After the Failure of the 2017 Kurdistan Independence Referendum: Scenarios and Challenges

2 years agoANALYSIS


By Awat Mohammed Ameen

KCCRC hosted Kirkuk Governing Council member Mr Awat Mohammed Ameen to discuss the situation in Kirkuk. The failure of the Kurdish referendum in 2017 led to the loss of vast swathes of disputed territories that had previously been held by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces resulting in an administrative crisis in the city of Kirkuk. In an attempt to understand the possibilities for the future of Kirkuk the KCCRC has prepared this paper.

Introduction
The administrative and political crisis affecting the city of Kirkuk is nothing new, but instead, it is another chapter in the ongoing turmoil associated with the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. The former Iraqi government was primarily responsible for the implementation of this article. It was expected to hold an extensive census of the city and referendum to take account of the desire of the people of Kirkuk as to which governing administration (Iraqi or Kurdish) they wanted for their city. 
The Iraqi government has failed to hold this census and has yet to compensate the population of that city for the violation of their constitutional right. The Iraqi constitution also required the consecutive Iraqi government to carry out a process of normalisation and de-escalation of tensions within Kirkuk before any referendum could take place. A method that should have comprised the following five points;

1.  Arabs peoples migrated into the city during the rule of the previous regime should be compensated to return to their places of origin.
2. Kurds displaced from the city by the former regime should be compensated so that they can resettle in their old homes in Kirkuk.
3. A resolution must be found for the issue of land ownership and for those who hold agricultural contracts.
4. Re-examine individual decisions previously implemented that deprived people of employment opportunities.
5. Reconsideration of previous choices made to conduct the ethnic cleansing of Iraqi groups made through policies aimed at the Arabisation of Kirkuk.

To date, none of the above conditions has been met and makes it difficult for any census to achieve an accurate overview of Kirkuk's population. It is only when a correct count transpires that a referendum can be held in Kirkuk successfully.  Today it appears that only 20% to 25% of the conditions of Article 140 has been met meaning there is 75% of the terms of the Article left to achieve. What is more, according to official documents nearly 5600 agricultural contracts remain in violation of the constitution, meaning the ownership of almost 250,000 hectares of land remains unresolved, and in the city, a mere 22% of all the homeownership disputed have been resolved and returned to their rightful owners.
In article 18 of his party's manifesto in 2007, the former Iraqi Prime Minister Noori Al Malki committed his government to completion of Article 140. However, Article 140 demanded that the entire article is achieved by a date that does not exceed December 31, 2007.  This date has now long transpired, and there have been no real attempts by consecutive Iraqi governments to meet the constitutional requirements of Article 140.

What Should the Kurdistan Regional Government have done?
Now that the deadline implementing Article 140 has expired, a central question is what should the Kurdish authorities have done? At the time the Kurdish Regional Government had three main options, these options should have been taken as the Kurdistan Regions policy priorities so that they could ensure the implementation of Article 140 and to prevent the Iraqi central government's attempts to bypass it. Their options were;

1. The Kurdistan Regional Government could have filed a complaint at Iraqi Federal Court and the United Nation's Assistance Mission for Iraq. At the international level, a grievance should have been sent to the United States in which the Kurdish Regional Government could have demonstrated the lacklustre steps taken by the Iraqi government in implementing the Iraqi constitution. The Kurdish authorities could have also sought expert advice about the case and demanding external monitoring.

2. Article 140 could have been discussed further in the Iraqi Parliament, as the Iraqi Parliament was responsible for assigning a unique commission for implementing Article 140. This commission would have included a committee for resolving the issue of disputed land ownership and a committee for conducting a just the census as this commission would have been responsible for monitoring progress on the article and holding the executive authorities to account.

3.   The Kurdistan Regional Government and Kurdish parties should have worked together and threatened to boycott the Iraqi political process entirely, the issue of Article 140 providing reasonable justification for the lack of Kurdish confidence in the political system of the country.

Unfortunately, instead of considering these three choices, the Kurdistan Regional Government accepted the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq's proposal asking for more time on the matter of Article 140 implementation. Both the Iraqi Prime Minister and Kurdish Regional Government Prime Minister at the time signed an agreement leaving the case in the hands of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.  A thorough investigation was carried out using the United Nation's measures for distinguishing one province from another (taking into account; (1) the numerical makeup of the population, (2) its security authority, (3) its geographical integration and (4) the administration of the province). As a result, the first report by the agency demanding the reclassification of the disputed areas as 100% Kurdish and devoid of any difficulties.
Furthermore, the first report concluded that the regions of Khanaqeen and Shekhan are without dispute part of the Kirkuk province. The findings went as far as to mention the town of Akre and argued that Akre could be annexed to Kurdistan Region, as they have no population disputes, as the population is entirely Kurdish. Regarding those regions where there is no stable population and their security and administration apparatus were not all controlled by the Kurdish authorities such as Kirkuk and the surrounding areas, the report recommended a full discussion and negotiation take place. However, the report regarded Kirkuk as an exceptional region and United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq proposed the consideration of four alternatives options:
1. Kirkuk to become an autonomous region within Iraq, neither belonging to Iraq nor the Kurdistan Region and should be awarded special status.
2. Kirkuk to belong to the Kurdish Region but should constitutionally retain its special status.
3. Kirkuk remain as an Iraqi governorate taking into account its distinctive characteristics
4. Annex Kirkuk the Kurdish Region.
The problem was that these proposals by the UN agency was not legally binding and both the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional government responses were ambiguous and sternly retorted.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq published a further report June 2008 with the aim of resolving remaining issues. The publication made some important suggestions among them it recommended the abolishment of agricultural contracts and the return of agricultural land to their rightful owners.  However, the United Nations failed to implement these recommendations, as it could not bring Iraqi and Kurdish governments around a table. Moreover, the Obama administration decided to withdraw United States forces from Iraq leading to the eventual destabilisation of Iraq.
The 'Arab Spring' quickly followed this downward trend in Iraqi politics and transformed the politics of the region. Like other Arab countries, the protests and demonstrations also spread through Iraqi cities like Anbar, Hawija, Salahaddin and Falluja resulting in the destabilisation of these cities. This upheaval also affected the Arab populations of Kirkuk, in particular, the western and southern parts of the province as they were all but out of Iraqi Federal Government control. The authorities in Kirkuk itself failed to control the situation, and these areas quickly became a safe zone for radical Sunni jihadist groups, extremist nationalist fanatics and ethnic groups disenfranchised with the Iraqi political process.
Hence, the argument is that while the United States intended to assist Iraq in resolving its internal problems in these disputed provinces, it was the central Iraqi government that failed to retain control of some of the areas that were handed over to them by the United States on their exit. 

Article 140 Since 2012
The issue of Article 140 had seen a transformation by 2012. Given that the Kurdistan Region was in the midst of an economic boom Kurdish attention focused on preserving the economic status quo for themselves rather than chasing constitutional and legal matters relating to Article 140 that, as they believed, would only serve to destabilise the economic gains made by the Kurds.  Kurdish delegations visiting Baghdad chose to sideline the issue of Article 140 in their discussions with the central government on numerous occasions in the following years instead favouring talks on financial, budgetary and military matters.  For its part, the Iraqi central government took advantage of this Kurdish attitude and continued to overlook the issue of Article 140. In December 2012 the former Kurdish Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, one of the countries highly respected constitutional architect and guarantor suffered a severe stroke and was forced to bow out of Iraqi and Kurdish politics opening the door for Baghdad to further ignore Article 140.  Hence, with little or no progress made on Article 140 the Provincial Council of Kirkuk headed by its governor Dr Najmadeen Kareem, a highly regarded figure within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, was left governing the province alone through a policy of majority rule on both the grassroots and institutional levels.
Dr Najmadin Karim's position strengthened in the 2014 Iraqi national elections when his party the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan was able to rely on their Kirkuk support base to win six parliamentary seats, an achievement that at the time seemed highly unlikely. Dr Najmadin Karim was a character that was able to navigate the tricky politics of Kirkuk to make significant progress in the province. Unfortunately for the governor, the region of Kirkuk fell into a period of immense political upheaval in 2014 impacting considerably on the governor's ability to deliver on his policy objectives.  Where he was able to strengthen his personal and political standing in Iraq, he failed in his policy objective of achieving peaceful coexistence, mutual trust and partnership between the different ethnic and religious groups of the province. Moreover, owing to his autocratic governing style his tenure saw a deterioration of relations between the various Kurdish factions in the area. Dr Najamadin Karim was able to use this environment of hostility within the Kurdish political establishment and between the province's feuding communities to further strengthened his position.
The Provincial Council of Kirkuk found it increasingly difficult to free itself from quarrelling political parties and failed in its duty to act as an institutional and legal body instead it became a marginalised and passive entity under the influence of political figures and party politics. These disputes escalated to the point where Provincial Council members became stuck between aggravating the Iraqi central government or destabilising internal Kurdish unity.
Kirkuk Provincial Council, Raising the Kurdish Flag and the Kurdish Referendum
In 2017 two significant events took place in Kirkuk province that awoke the unresolved issues surrounding Kirkuk and Article 140. The first was the decision to raise the Kurdish flag on all of Kirkuk's state institutions regardless of the opposition presented by both Turkmen and Arab communities. What is more, the majority of the members of the Kirkuk Brotherhood List did not support this unilateral Kurdish move either.
However, given Dr Najmadeen Karim personally advocated this move and that Provincial Council members from the Kurdistan Democratic Party under advisement from their party leaders agreed with the decision to have Kurdish flags hoisted above all state institutions in Kirkuk, the governor implemented the policy across the province. This move was followed by the Iraqi parliament, which debated the issue and decided that the decision made by Dr Najmadin Karim was not in line with Iraq's constitution and required state institutions to take down their Kurdish flags.
The second major event was the participation of Kirkuk province and other disputed areas in the Kurdistan independence referendum of September 25th, 2017. Any independence referendum held exclusively in the Kurdistan Region did not pose a problem for the national and international players in Iraq as most had already accepted the Kurdish dominance in Duhok, Erbil, and Sulaimania and incorporated the reality into their policy goals. Moreover, given the Iraqi central government had held that a referendum in the established Kurdistan Region would have been considered legal in international law it had already given its blessing to such a poll.  However, the Kurdish independence referendum became an explosive issue because the Kurds wanted to incorporate the disputed territories in the vote. A single resolution to such a contentious issue without regard for other claims of ownership of the province from the multiplicity of ethnic groups, the economic dependence of the entire country on its vast oil wells and the potential for geopolitical shifts that would shift the power dynamic in the Middle East more widely could not be permitted.
The grievance of the Kurdish politicians in Kirkuk was that they became trapped by the Kurdish President's announcement that the Kurdish Regional Government would allow disputed provinces to take part in the vote if their provincial council's made a formal application to take part. Dr Najmadin Karim did not personally send the request on the part of the Kirkuk Province. Instead, he asked Kurdish members of the Provincial Council to raise the issue from the council floor and to demand participation. In doing this, a petition was sent to council members to sign formally requesting involvement in the Kurdish vote. As this was a nationalist issue for the Kurds, no Kurdish politician was in a position stand against the establishment position no matter how ill-advised they deemed the referendum to be as it would have resulted in accusations of treason.
A more forward-thinking course of action would have been to take advantage of the international acceptance of the Kurdistan Region and to hold the referendum in the three northern Kurdish provinces alone. Acting as the first stage towards full independence the poll could have ushered in the first internationally acceptable Kurdish state. This new Kurdish state could compete with Iraq at a later stage for ownership of the disputed territories. Similar models such as the Indian and Pakistani struggle for the Kashmir region or the Armenian and Azerbaijani, Turkish and Greek, and Egyptian and Saudi Arabian disputes over territory have over time resulted in acceptable resolutions for all sides.
Therefore, there is an argument to suggest that had the Kurds chosen the three-province scenario to conduct their referendum and had the authorities in Baghdad also rejected the outcome the costs for the Kurdish region would most likely not have been as severe.
It is essential to realise the politically charged nature of both of the significant events outlined above. In both cases, the provincial council members were in no real position to have an independent say on these issues. Instead, the members could only tow the party line and hope for the best. In turn and with no other choice, the authorities in Baghdad directed harsh criticism at the Kurdish authorities in Kirkuk, accusing them of acting unilaterally and unconstitutionally. Aggravated that this action showed no respect for the desire of other groups who claimed ownership on the province Baghdad viewed the efforts by the provincial council as a direct violation of the Iraq constitution. The subsequent collapse of trust in the Kurdish authorities led to the filing of complaints against the governor of Kirkuk, the Provincial Council and relevant political parties active in the province. Given the pressures in the city were by then reaching a boiling point there was a high expectation from all sides that there would be a change to the Kirkuk political system to calm the situation down.  One of the following scenarios was expected to occur:  
1) The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan replaces Dr Najmadin Karim as governor of the province.
2) New provincial council elections to elect new and younger council members who may have a different outlook for Kirkuk than the outgoing members. 
3) Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government would take part in meaningful dialogue and negotiation to de-escalating tensions in the province. In particular, there was an expectation that talks should focus on providing a better public service for citizens via the allocation of an individual budget for the province from the sale of Kirkuk's oil.
Unfortunately, neither of these expectations became a reality; instead, there was a transfer of the radical rhetoric and political discourse between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government from the high offices of state and the television networks to the province of Kirkuk. Masoud Barzani, the former president of the Kurdistan Region, visited Kirkuk city on numerous occasions as a show of strength and statement of ownership in the town and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also took unilateral steps in the province. These actions only served to further intensify the tensions on the ground. Moreover, the Kurdish independence referendum and inclusion of Kirkuk in the poll only helped to give the Iraqi government the justification it needed to impose its authority on the province, an action Baghdad threatened to carry out on multiple occasions.
With the threat of imminent action by the Iraqi government in the province of Kirkuk following the referendum, the two main political parties in the Kurdistan Region disagreed on what was required to remedy the situation. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan who was serving in a coalition government in the Kurdistan Region at the time enjoyed a large support base in the province and feared what the impact of a violent clash with the Iraqi central government would mean for Kirkuk. So in its post-referendum meeting with its coalition partners the Kurdistan Democratic Party on the 15th October in the Dukan Resort, it argued that Kurdistan take the necessary steps to avoid violent clashes with the Iraqi central government. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan believed that any conflicts would leave Kirkuk in the same state as Mosul or Ramadi and that violence would serve no-one's cause.     
However, the Kurdistan Democratic Party with little political capital in the city had everything to gain and nothing to lose in a violent nationalist clash with the Iraqi Government. With this mindset, they argued that defending the city militarily was the only way forward; they based their confidence in the belief that the Iraqi government would not choose to send the military resources to Kirkuk to retake it. 
While the meeting concluded in an agreement of unity what transpired on the 16th October 2017 was anything but unified. The Kurdish defence of Kirkuk and the disputed territories melted away as a lack of harmony, unity and cooperation flooded through the high-ranking Kurdish officers. Overnight the Kurdish balance of power in Kirkuk shifted from semi-complete Kurdish control to a complete collapse and handover to Iraqi control. With Shi'a power now dominating Kirkuk the Turkoman and Arab communities of the city have now been empowered, and the Kurdish population brought to its knees.

Next Steps for the Kurds in Kirkuk

 It is important to remember that within Kirkuk's legal and constitutional institutions the Kurds remain the majority power. The Kurds still hold the governor's office and  26 of 41 seats in Kirkuk's provincial council. Given there is no threat of imprisonment for Kurdish politicians in Kirkuk, the Kurds may still find that they have an opportunity to protect their positions in these institutions if their provincial council members return to the city and rejoin the political process. The current Acting Governor Rakan Saeed who previously held the position of Deputy Governor of Kirkuk is not in his current position illegally given his previous post. However, it is important to remember that his posting was via a political arrangement. The fact that Haidar Abadi and the Shiite National Coalition has decided to keep the political arrangement intact and not replaced the entire council and governorship with Shi'ite associates only serves to demonstrate the limited control the southern Shi'a powers have over the province and the opportunity for the Kurds to re-engage in the political process.
For over a month since the events of 16th October 2017, the Kirkuk Brotherhood List has been trying to meet together to discuss the way forward. The Kirkuk Brotherhood list is made up of two nonpartisan members, one being Mr Awat Mohammed Ameen and the other a female member who was formerly a member of Communist Party. The group also incorporates two members of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, two Christian members and one Turkoman member all of which are members of their affiliated political parties. Moreover, the block also includes nine members from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and five members from the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Unfortunately, since the loss of Kirkuk by the Kurds the members from the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Chairman of the Provincial Council, Mr Rebwar Talabani (also a member of the Kurdistan Islamic Union) have remained in Erbil arguing that they cannot return to Kirkuk until the situation there is normalised. In the interest of restoring security and stability to the province through the re-commencement of provincial politics, the fourteen members that remain are currently arguing for the implementation of a process of normalisation in Kirkuk and that the Iraqi government legalise the conditions set out in that regard.
The fourteen members that remain also argue if the Kurdistan Democratic Party and its allies believe that the resolution for the city of Kirkuk is in dialogue, negotiation and diplomacy then that process should begin in the legislative chambers of Kirkuk. They argue for the importance of working with the Turkoman and Arab members by shared principles instead of individually on individual interests. The points of discussion should be on ways to make the province safe for all communities and ways to remove the factors that create displacement of peoples regardless of background.
While there are always credible threats to Kirkuk, it is crucial to understand that there are areas within Kirkuk that remain relatively peaceful. 
On 22nd November 2017, the Kirkuk Provincial Council had some success in holding a session.  22 out of 41 mostly members from the Kirkuk Brotherhood List were present in the meeting. The Arab and Turkman members chose to stay away.  The meeting aimed to reply to the Iraqi Parliament who had a presented a petition signed by 151 MP's requesting that the government abolish the Kirkuk Provincial Council. The Council used the opportunity to pass three decisions the first was to rebuke the parliamentary petition by demonstrating that the Kirkuk Provincial Council as a body was against the parliamentary request to abolish the council. Conducting the meeting successfully and passing the decision demonstrated that there no need to have the council disbanded as it was still able to function and make decisions constitutionally.
 The second decision was that the Provincial Council would only convene in Kirkuk. This law was passed by members to subvert an attempt to relocate the Provincial Council's meetings outside of Kirkuk. The assembly's final decision was to hold talks between all members and groups within the council to re-distribute the offices in Kirkuk, notably the positions of Kirkuk Governor and head of Provincial Council. The meeting of  22nd November 2017 was an essential step for de-escalating the situations in Kirkuk and normalising its present security, administrative and political life.  However, the future of the Kirkuk Province remains unclear.
There were several factors behind the destabilisation of Kirkuk, and what happened in that city was the outcome of internal Kurdish and particularly Patriotic Union of Kurdistan divisions. Moreover, the absence of the former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has created a significant gap in Iraqi Political decision-making and caused political problems for the Kurds. Kurdish political parties content with the internal divisions of the current ruling party in Kirkuk, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, should take note that these divisions would, in the end, impact the politics and societal aspects of life for all communities.
It is also important to mention that during the periods of Kurdish strength in Kirkuk when the Kurds raised their flag over the government buildings in Kirkuk and the independence referendum campaign was underway the Kurdish political parties visited the provincial council to show their support for the province. However, since the failure of the referendum and the recapture of the area by Iraqi military forces those same faces have chosen to stay away from the city. What is more, the Kurdish political parties are choosing to ignore Kirkuk in their political campaigning as the country moves into election season. This arms-length politics by the Kurdish parties in regards to Kirkuk will only have negative political consequences at the ballot boxes.
For the Kurdish members in the Kirkuk Provincial Council, the duty is to retain as much power and influence as they can for the Kurds. They aim to preserve Kurdish power in Kirkuk by keeping control of the Office of the governor of Kirkuk and retaining Kurdish control of the Provincial Council. In achieving these goals, the Kurdish members of the Kirkuk provincial council will require the assistance that comes with political dialogue between the Kurdish political parties. The discussion should begin with the question of the Kurdistan Democratic party's presence in Kirkuk. It is not correct to have the party expelled; instead, dialogue should focus on how a reformed Kurdistan Democratic Party presence in Kirkuk can be reintroduced. This reintroduction will help the future of the province become far more stable and insulated from traditional Kurdish political party rivalries. The same is true for other political parties that have taken a step back from the politics of the province since the ill-fated referendum.
It is therefore highly recommended that the Kurds revise all of their policies and start serious talks with their Arabs and Turkmen counterparts insisting on the implementations of the Iraqi constitution at all levels and in all the disputed territories. Given that an array of extremist groups now threatens Kirkuk it is time for the dominant political parties to shoulder their share of the security burden and help to protect and normalise the province and its residents.

Obstacles Facing Kirkuk's Stabilisation Efforts
The first obstacle facing the stabilisation efforts in the province of Kirkuk is the internal difficulties of the Kirkuk Brotherhood list. The events of the last few years have created some hostility between members. While the list is still able to mobilise the majority of its members to attend meetings some alienated members continue to choose not to participate. Fortunately for the Kirkuk Brotherhood list, it is still able to gather the majority of its members. In an attempt to normalise relations between the Kirkuk Brotherhood list members it has taken steps to opened the door for reconciliation between its members to allow those who have not attended recent meetings to return to the table and serve in Kirkuk's political process. 
Having said this the Kirkuk Brotherhood list remains plagued with mistrust and suspicion among its members presenting a significant challenge to political progress. For instance, the appointment of the current chairman of the Kirkuk Provincial Council Rebwar Talabani came after the resignation of the former chairman Hassan Torran. The position of Rebwar Talabani was initially a temporary post until a chairperson could be assigned however he has remained in that position for four consecutive years. There is no movement on the appointment of a proper chairman because there is fear among member that anyone who is appointed may work for their ethnic and sectarian preferences without regard for other components and given elections in Kirkuk are not always guaranteed may remain in post indefinitely.  Therefore all sides understand that these posts should be filled on the bases of a political agreement that is signed off by all parties.  The appointment of the previous governor Dr Najmadin Karim, and the former Chairman of the Provincial Council Hassan Torran was through political agreement and proved very successful for Kirkuk before 2014.
 For example, when head of Provincial Council-Hassan Torran- resigned from his post Rebwar Talabani was assigned as an acting head of Kirkuk Provincial Council and he has remained in that position for four consecutive years. Therefore we cannot alone elect a head of Provincial Council from Turkmen for fear of the same deteriorating situations and he or she might remain in that post for several years without taking into considerations the rights of other components. We are now working on voting to fill all the vacant positions as one complete package- this means voting for filling out all the vacant positions. Moreover, there should be a formal commitment by all members to take part in the process of forming this cross-party agreement to fill the seats.
The mistrust is usually not played out between the members as Kurdistan Democratic Party members typically have an independent and informed view on what should happen within the province. However, the given the nature of the Kurdistan Democratic Party these members are forced to submit their votes and opinions to the Kurdistan Democratic Party line no matter what it is. 
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan works differently to the Kurdistan Democratic Party when it comes to Kirkuk. The senior Patriotic Union of Kurdistan members in Kirkuk act independently when it comes to policies around the internal affairs of the province and do not take orders from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leadership in Sulaimani. This model of decision-making is prefered by most in the region as it allows for an informed decision-making process.
This difference in decision-making procedure between the two sides is on show in the current disagreements about the future of Kirkuk.
The external decision-making style of the Kurdistan Democratic Party refuses to accept that Dr. Najmadeen Kareem can no longer be governor. The Kurdistan Democratic Party continues to rely on the strategic agreement signed between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and themselves in Erbil regarding the post of governor and chairman. The Kurdistan Democratic Party position relies on distant policymaking that is not rooted in realism or logic that the events after the referendum have changed the status of politics in the province. Even though the members of the chamber from the Kurdistan Democratic Party personally understand the need for change given they are local to Kirkuk and better informed that officials from Erbil they are still forced to take the Kurdistan Democratic Party line.
On the other hand, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has relied on local sources to move its policy forward in Kirkuk. An understanding of the facts on the ground by its local politicians has directed the party's policy on Kirkuk towards the promotion of a new defacto arrangement in Kirkuk.  The party has accepted the failure of the referendum and the cost it had for the party in the province and have consequently recognised the need for change.     

It is crucial moving forward that the Kurdish political parties accept the collapse of Kurdish political power in Kirkuk and change their policy accordingly. Rhetoric and discourse will prove futile in changing the realities on the ground and will only serve to stall the stabilisation and normalisation efforts currently underway. If the Kurdish parties can make this shift, they can begin to rebuild the Kurdish Brotherhood list and use it to make the legal and moral for the Kurdish inclusion in the new political reality in Kirkuk. There is confidence among the provincial council members that the Kirkuk Brotherhood list can retain the post of Governor by relying on the Iraqi constitution and political agreements with the Turkman and Arab members, as was the case before 16th October 2017. However this most likely won't be achieved without Kurdish unity of purpose.

Continuing the Status-quo in Kirkuk and its Consequences
The continuation of the crisis in Kirkuk without a meaningful resolution will have unfortunate repercussions. Today the acting governor and Iraqi government, in general, is relying on political decisions made by the former Ba'athist regime to change the status quo in Kirkuk province. The governor is counting on these old Ba'athist decisions to once again carrying out policies of Arabization, land acquisition, and the demographic manipulation of Kirkuk.
In an effort at the re-Arabization of the province of Kirkuk, the Governor of Kirkuk has restarted the issuing of land contracts to Arabs. The authorities use these old laws to take parts of the Kurdish owned land and offer them to Arabs in the form of land contracts. The contract holders are then subsequently compensated to resettle in Kirkuk.
Furthermore, the Iraqi government has taken the current opportunity to claim ownership of almost 300-400 hectares of land in Kirkuk on Shi'ite religious grounds. The government argues that where any sacred site exists that is remotely related to Shi'ism, it reserves the right to claim ownership of it. For example, the historic Imam Qasim Mosque was seized in this way by the government in the immediate aftermath of the government offensive on Kirkuk. What is more, the government is also supporting Shi'ia communities in Kirkuk by enriching it with financial support and allowing them to grow powerful religious networks via the opening of Shi'ite schools, institutes and cultural centres. A government policy that has previously been seen in the province of Samara. 
The potential is there to increase the damage to the Kurds in Kirkuk further. A Ba'athist decision exists that allows an individual to gain residency rights, including the right to vote anywhere in Iraq on the condition that they have lived there continuously for ten years. In recognising the special status of Kirkuk, the Provincial Council in Kirkuk has dismissed this decision for Kirkuk in the last three elections. However, there is currently nothing to stop the current acting governor from implementing this law in future elections. If realised, this eventuality would be to the detriment of future Kurdish electoral success in the province.

Turkmen and Arab Stance in Kirkuk
While the Turkman of Kirkuk have always favoured Kirkuk becoming a self-governed autonomous region, their opinion has suddenly shifted away from this view because the Shi'ite Turkman have become more powerful than them overnight.
The Arabs are against Kirkuk becoming an autonomous region and prefer Kirkuk to enjoy the same status as all other provinces in Iraq as they know in a standalone Kirkuk region they will become a minority. They favour this arrangement as the central government would be in full control and would, therefore, guarantee the Arab populations share of the economic resources of the province. 

The United States of America and Kirkuk
The United States is currently waiting for the next Iraqi elections set for 15th May 2018. The vote would bring power back to the Iraqi political institutions and weaken Iranian influence.  The United States resents Iranian gains in Iraq. In this regard, the United States is throwing its weight behind Heidar al-Abadi in the election face off with Maliki. The United States is working to steer Heider al-Abadi towards Saudi Arabian and Egyptian axis.
Moreover, the United States is working to encouraging Heider al-Abadi to rebuild Iraq and are offering him military support in this regard. The United States also had plans for the Kurds to join a coalition government with Heider al-Abadi; however, the Kurdish independence referendum has left this plan in pieces. Hence the scenarios point to the United States taking a back seat in Iraq until the results of the May 2018 poll is known.
The United States was in no position to stop the Iraqi military advance on Kirkuk, as its only option was to attack Abadi's forces, an eventuality that was contradictory to its long-term strategic outcome for the country.  The United States only choice was to request that all sides return to Iraq's pre-2003 positions.
If the 2018 election results in a pro-Iranian outcome the United States may start to put its support behind the Sunni and Kurdish groups to counter Iranian advances in the country. This policy may bring with it an effort to take oil-rich Iraqi land away from the Iranian backed Shi'ite forces.
However, if the United States becomes confronted with a scenario where the Muqtada al-Sadir front, which currently officially supports Heider al-Abadi, and the Sunni Arab's are divided, then Iraq may enter a political phase of reconciliation and become free of different restrictions. In this eventuality, the United States may make a political arrangement with the Kurds, as this scenario is more in line with United States interests.  Hence, the United States has yet to stabilise its policy towards Iraq and the status of Kirkuk.
The United States is aware of the sensitive nature of Kirkuk and has been warned by the United Nations that if Kirkuk destabilises, then all sides will lose. Moreover, the United Nations has warned that destabilisation of Kirkuk will only lead to chaos and anarchy for the province. The use of force by all sides will quickly ensue. So it seems that the best way forward for all parties is the continuation of the Provincial Council of Kirkuk.




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