Thursday, August 30, 2007

Turkmens get ahead in Kirkuk talks through US push on Kurds

Ahmet Muratlı, the Iraqi Turkmen Front's (ITC) representative in Ankara, sounded hopeful on Tuesday regarding progress in ongoing negotiations between the Turkmen and Arab blocs and the Kurds in the strategically vital northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. He stressed that a recent attitude of compromise on the part of the Kurdish side was the fruit of the Turkmen and Arab blocs' tough bargaining as well as US officials' pressure on the Kurds.

Ahmet Muratlı
At the moment Kurds hold 26 seats in Kirkuk's 41-member provincial council. There are nine Turkmen and six Arab members, all of whom have been boycotting meetings for months in support of their demands for a fair distribution of the government posts.
"Particularly following recent remarks by US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who earlier this month said a referendum that will determine the future status of Kirkuk is unlikely to proceed as planned, the Iraqi Kurds' attitude has become more compromising than earlier as they have understood they can no longer pretend as if everything is on track in Kirkuk," Muratlı said in a brief interview with Today's Zaman on Tuesday. In June a Turkmen delegation led by ITC head Saadettin Ergeç had talks with senior officials in the US capital and voiced uneasiness with the fact that the normalization of security sought by the Iraqi constitution, which is a must for holding the planned referendum, hasn't occurred in the city. In the last 10 days, US government and military officials held secret talks in Kirkuk with both Iraqi Kurds and the Turkmen and Arab blocs, Muratlı explained.
"The US officials have been pressuring the Kurds because they want to see concrete progress in the city that they can promote by taking note of it on a report that will be represented to the president next month," Muratlı said, referring to the fact that Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Crocker will represent their views on Iraq to US President George W. Bush and Congress in a report during the first half of September.
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution stipulates a Dec. 31 deadline this year for the Kirkuk referendum. A process of "normalization" is continuing now for reversing the effects of former leader Saddam Hussein's policy of driving the Kurds out of a string of northern cities and replacing them with Arabs. The constitutional timetable also stipulated a census be completed by the end of July, but neither this nor "normalization" have been implemented.
In a letter dated Aug.13 and sent to both Arab and Turkmen members of the city council in an effort to persuade them to end their boycott of the council, Iraqi Kurds offered two deputy governorships -- one to each of the two groups. Yet, according to the local administration law adopted following the US-led invasion of the country in 2003, every province has a governing council, and the council's head can only have one deputy. Additionally there is one governor and one deputy governor.
Muratlı said their hard bargaining would continue and that they wanted the governorship of Kirkuk. Turkmens also want their language to be used as an official language in addition to Arabic and Kurdish in the city. "We want our language to be used in official plates at schools, hospitals and the like," he said.
Another important bargaining issue for Turkmens and Arabs is a fair allocation of the crucial posts in the province, including the chief of police, the municipality, the land registry and the census office, which were seized by the Kurds once they secured a majority on the council.