Jack Serle

From Kirkaldy to Kirkuk

In Kurdistan on February 17, 2012 at 1:07 PM

It is pretty clear that spheroid demagogue Alex Salmond has run rings around flaccid scourge-of-the-poor David Cameron. Plans are afoot for the perfidious Celts north of the border to break free of the imperialist tyrants in London.

Choleric Englishmen are terribly huffy and making patronising remarks about independence cursing Scotland to third-world status. Red headed Scots on a haggis and Braveheart bender are invoking the spirit of William Wallace.

The whole shebang prompts thoughts of other restive northerners. Kurdistan Region is a de facto country. The Kurds have their own government, their own foreign representatives, and their own (modest) income from oil exports. But casting off the yolk of Baghdad is long-yearned for ideal.


With the First World War done and dusted the Ottoman Turkish Empire was broken up and shared round like the last lump of baklava. France took Syria and Lebanon, Britain took what is now Iraq, Jordan and Israel.

This in part explains why the lines drawn on maps cut the Kurdish people into four – Iraqi Kurds, Iranian Kurds, Turkish Kurds and a smidgen of Syrian Kurds.

Despite petitioning the League of Nations and a couple of uprisings, brutally put down by Britain, the Iraqi Kurds remained Iraqi. This would prove to be unfortunate.

The Anfal campaign of the 1980s was a horrific moment in history, dark-age barbarism with chemical weapons. Kurds were murdered and forcibly uprooted, their homes bulldozed. The villages left standing were populated with Arab Iraqis to engineer demographics to ensure the Kurds were no longer the clear majority.

This was most pertinent is Kirkuk which sits atop of monstrous supplies of oil. Locals tell of people digging a well for water and striking oil. Kirkuk is the Kurds traditional capital, sometimes described as the Kurdish Jerusalem. Baghdad’s fear has always been the symbolism of the city combined with the huge reserves would be a fillip to the Kurdish nationalists. Independence would become inexorable.

The land cleared of Kurds forms a zone that runs contiguous to the Kurdistan Region-federal border. This is the disputed territories. The Kurds in Erbil claim them for their own, the Arabs in Baghdad like wise.

By twisting the ethnic and religious complexion in these areas Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen vie for supremacy. As a result Nineveh, Kirkuk and Mosul remain among the most dangerous provinces in Iraq and independence has been permanently stymied.


The Kurds are keen to get quit of what many see as an unnecessary union. They have run their own affairs for long enough. Kurdistan is booming, showing high single figure GDP growth.

The Kurds have never had a state to call their own. The Kurdistan Region is the closest they have ever come and it is understandable that the final step is tantalising.

But the current glut in the region is in no small part thanks to the dollop of moneys the Kurdistan Regional Government gets from Baghdad. To declare independence Kurdistan would overnight be wincingly poor.

To make independence viable there would have to be a resolution to the disputed territories. This was mean to come from the Iraqi constitution’s Article 140.

This sets out a series of steps to resolve the territorial dispute. Essentially it rules that all the people moved out of the disputed territories must be returned. All the people moved in to replace them must be returned to their origins too.

Tricky business given records are obviously inadequate and the idea of uprooting families established over 20 or more years is totalitarian and cruel. This has already been happening, so-called de-Arabization, in Kirkuk and elsewhere. It has gone hand in hand with racist and sectarian intimidation and violence.

The second step according to Article 140 is to redraw lines on the map, taking the provincial borders back to what they were before Saddam. The third step is to take a census in preparation for the final phase, a referendum. The plebiscite is meant to settle the question of who governs the disputed territory, Baghdad or Erbil.

A simple if rather cold way of settling the dispute which, as there is just so much oil and power tied up in the disputed territories, has failed to be implemented. This is despite the constitution stating Article 140 had to be fulfilled by December 2007.

Why it has not come to pass is murky than you would first think. Although it is clear the Arabs in the disputed territories and the Baghdad government do not want to lose control of Kirkuk. Revenge and lost wealth would most likely be the result. They will go out of their way to prevaricate and prevent Article 140 being implemented.


The President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd. He is a respected man in Baghdad, Kurdistan Region and in Washington. One might think that as the President is one of the men who must sign Article 140 into action, he might apply his not inconsiderable weight to get the ball rolling.

Not if a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party is to be believed.

You see, when Saddam bulldozed the Kurds out of Kirkuk, Mosul and Diyala he also redrew lines on maps. This was gerrymandering not to win elections but to ensure the continued internecine and distracting violence and conflict in the troublesome northern regions.

He redrew the borders of the Kurdistan Region provinces of Erbil and Sulaimaniya. These Kurdish controlled sectors were extended to encompass Kurdish majority towns in Kirkuk province. Kirkuk itself was extended south to encompass Arab majority towns.

The demographics were shifted and the population of Sulaimaniya and Erbil increased. Kurdistan Region receives 17 per cent of the federal budget each year. This is divided up between the provinces of Kurdistan Region by proportion of population.

If step three of Article 140 goes ahead, Sulaimaniya will lose a lot of money. Jalal Talabani’s family and friends own masses of land in Sulaimaniya and have been getting rich off the government expenditure in the province.

Talabani’s political party the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has its heartland in Sulaimaniya. If the population declines it will get less of the Kurdistan Region budget to spend on its people. It will lose power.

The allegation is clear. If my source is to be believed and I do believe him, Article 140 remains stuck because money would bleed out of the hands of the powerful. Without a resolution to the disputed territories there can be no independence.


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