samedi 26 janvier 2008

Iraq's natural resources should be controled by the central government!

Rifts over oil, Kerkuk and Peshmerga threaten alliance between Kurdish authorities and central government.

By Wrya Hama-Tahir in Sulaimaniyah (ICR No. 244, 25-Jan-08)


Tensions are building between Kurdish leaders and Arab prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government in Baghdad, threatening to divide two of Iraq’s strongest political allies.

Kurdish leaders accuse Maliki’s government of not acting on issues most important to the Kurds, such as resolving a dispute over ownership of Kerkuk province and the funding of Kurdish forces known as the Peshmerga.

At the same time, the Iraqi Kurdish government has forged ahead with signing private oil contracts without the approval of the central government, irking Baghdad and reigniting debates about how much power Iraq’s regional governments should hold.

The Kurdish Alliance, the second-largest political bloc in the country, holds 53 of Baghdad parliament’s 275 seats and are members of Maliki’s Shia-led government. The recent tensions have damaged one of the strongest alliances in Iraq’s severely fractured political landscape.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s decision to sign independently about 15 oil contracts with international firms is one of the most contentious issues.

The region approved an oil law last year that paved the way for the agreements. The politically paralysed central government has yet to vote on a national oil law.

The Iraqi constitution states that central government controls oil revenues, however it does not stipulate who should manage issues like oil contracts and production.

The Kurdistan Regional Government’s natural resources minister Ashti Hawrami is in Baghdad this week to try to resolve the oil contracts dispute with the oil ministry, according to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s news service. Nechirvan Barzani, the KRG’s prime minister, was not able to resolve any of the issues during a visit to Baghdad earlier this month.

Iraqi oil minister Hussein al-Shahristani deems the KRG’s contracts illegal and has threatened to bar oil firms working for the Iraqi Kurdistan authorities from doing business with Baghdad.

Last week, in a challenge to the Kurds, 145 MPs from a dozen political lists - including Sunni and Shia Arabs, Turkoman and Yezidis - signed a declaration supporting the central government’s control over all of Iraq’s natural resources.

The MPs also said that Iraq’s political factions should resolve the future status of Kerkuk without a referendum. Although Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution called for a plebiscite to be held on Kerkuk by the end of 2007, the vote has been postponed in part because of rising violence in the province.

The delays over Kerkuk, an oil-rich city which is home to Kurds, Turkoman and Arabs, has frustrated Kurdish leaders who want it to be administered by the KRG. Kurdish leaders are under heavy public pressure to bring Kirkuk under KRG control, as many Kurds believe that Kerkuk is a historically Kurdish area.

The late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein carried out several ethnic cleansing operations in Kerkuk to change the demography of the province. Thousands of Kurds and Turkoman were displaced from the city and Arabs replaced them. Meanwhile, the KRG is waiting for Maliki to approve funds for 80,000 Peshmarga fighters, and there is an ongoing debate over how much revenue Iraqi Kurdistan should receive from central government: The Kurds maintained that they are 17 per cent of the population and, as such, are entitled to 17 per cent of oil revenues, while non-Kurds have argued that Kurds are only 13 per cent of the population. Iraq has not had an accurate census in decades.

Wrya Hama-Tahir is an IWPR correspondent in Sulaimaniyah. Zainab Naji contributed to this story from Baghdad.

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