CFR expert: Kirkuk will likely be added to Kurdistan
By Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Washington - Iraq-expert and officer at the U.S. State Department Rachel Schneller thinks that the incorporation of Kirkuk in Kurdistan is likely, due to the fact that the Kurdish bloc is likely to become the ‘tie-breaker’ in the Iraqi parliament after the 7 March Iraq elections.
Rachel Schneller is a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. State Department, currently an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. researching Iraq and its refugees and displaced persons. Her opinion doesn’t reflect the ideas of the US government nor State Department.
Despite that some Iraq experts think the Kurds are unlikely to become the kingmakers in the next Iraqi elections and that Kirkuk will get a separate status, due to external opposition of neighbouring countries and the opposition of the majority of Iraqi political groups against the Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk, Schneller disagrees.
She spoke with Kurds in Washington before, who were skeptical about Kirkuk becoming part of the KRG. “But mostly because they say people are not that enamored with the KRG government and not so interested in being part of it. They mentioned that Kirkuk/Tamim might be more interested in becoming its own region, which is possible under the Iraqi Constitution. This was an option I had not heard much about before,” she said.
The CFR-expert think events and the current situation in Iraq make the incorporation of Kirkuk into the KRG more likelybecause, primarily, of the sequencing of them. “There was supposed to have been Constitutional reform before now; this has not happened. Iraqis are heading into an election where Kurdish representation on parliament will likely increase, with Article 140 and other aspects of the Iraqi constitution still on the books. If it has not been possible to amend Article 140 until now, it seems even less likely that this will be done in a way that does not deliver Kurdish aspirations for Kirkuk after the elections,” she claims.
Kurds won’t lose power
Schneller thinks, that the Kurds, rather than losing power, after the elections the Kurdish bloc is likely to become the tie-breaker in Iraqi Parliament as neither the Shia nor the Sunni will likely have an absolute majority. “This is more important than the largely ceremonial role of President. Shia and Sunni both reject the idea of Kirkuk becoming part of the KRG, but the degree of opposition is likely to be affected by the interests of each group, and can change over time. Of course, there are unknowns in this equation. Without an accurate census, it is impossible to know what percentage each group is in the country. Also, this is assuming the elections take place without boycotts or major fraud.”
Kurds don’t want Kirkuk for independence
Some experts, like Joost Hilterman and others, claim the Kurds want to have Kirkuk as a stepping-stone towards Kurdish independence. But Schneller says this is not the case. “I do not believe incorporation of Kirkuk into the KRG means the same thing as independence for Kurdistan. As you and other experts mention, a move to declare independence for Kurdistan would be met with high opposition by all of the KRG's external neighbors, as well as the rest of Iraq, and the U.S. This argument appears to rest on the assumption that the incorporation of Kirkuk into the KRG would make Kurdistan economically viable.”
Schneller argues that an independent country needs more than just a viable economy, despite that many countries exist that are not particularly economically viable. “The KRG's economic viability depends on its ability to transport oil to its neighbors, so the KRG would in effect be shooting itself in the foot if it moved toward independence without securing support from Turkey, Iran, Syria, and the rest of the Baghdad government. The realities of declaring independence will likely dissuade the KRG from seeking that route anytime soon- they would have to establish their own currency and monetary policy, negotiate visa requirements to travel to other countries, negotiate separate entrance into the UN and WTO, just to name a few.”
Special status for Kirkuk
Some experts and organization have argued for a special status for Kirkuk. This is especially embraced by the Turkmen and Arabs in Kirkuk. “Some sort of special status for Kirkuk is an interesting proposition. I am not sure if this option is allowed under the current Constitution. If it is, and if the Kurds can be persuaded to accept it, this might be a compromise; however, it would also perhaps set a precedent for other sensitive areas of Iraq. There are other mixed cities that could also be good candidates for special status- Baqubah and Baghdad itself for example. And of course the Kurds would have to agree, which is a big unknown.”