Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Talabani criticized for designating Kirkuk “Jerusalem of Kurdistan”

Kirkuk, March 9 (AKnews) – The President of Iraq Jalal Talabani has been criticized for describing oil-rich Kirkuk as the "Jerusalem of Kurdistan" by the province's Arabs and Turkmen who have demanded explanations from the president for his remark.

Talabani was addressing a rally of supporters of his party – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah on March 7 during the 20th anniversary of a poplar uprising in the city against the former Iraqi regime in 1991 when he likened Kirkuk to Jerusalem. The 1991 uprisings of the people of Kurdistan resulted in the current semi-autonomy of the region.

"We must not forget that there are areas reunited with the (Kurdistan) region such as Kirkuk, the Jerusalem of Kurdistan," Talabani said in his address, "we need a common struggle".

Talabani also said he defended democracy, freedom and the demands of the people, but also urged the people to express their demands peacefully.

Sulaimaniyah has been the scene of protests since February 17 where people have been calling for improved services, social justice, employment opportunities and the elimination of administrative corruption. Kirkuk also witnessed violent protests, mostly in the Arab populated areas, where government buildings and police stations were set on fire.

Three police officers were killed in the clashes between the "demonstrators" and the police. Some of the demonstrators in Hawija and Riyadh towns were carrying pictures of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is one of the most disputed areas by the regional government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad. It is populated by a mixture of Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs and Christians.

The Kurds are seeking to integrate the province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically Kurdish. The May 2010 parliamentary elections showed that the majority of the province is still Kurdish after they won more than half of the votes there by a small margin.

Talabani's remarks drew attention of the Arab media and sparked criticism from the Arabs and Turkmen of Kirkuk who said Talabani, as president of Iraq, should not have said that and demanded an explanation.

"What we heard from Talabani about Kirkuk being the heart or Jerusalem of Kurdistan should be reconsidered," said an Arab member of the Kirkuk provincial council, Mohammed Khalil al-Jubouri " president of the country; he should be impartial."

"It is better for him to say Kirkuk is an Iraqi province for all Iraqis".

Turkman provincial council member Tahsin Kahiya was also critical of Talabani's statement.

"The statement carries the meaning that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan, this is not new to the political reality of Iraq, but Kirkuk … has a special status, and the issue has not been resolved yet" he said.

"I think we have constitutional institutions and democratic mechanisms we can turn to in deciding the future of the city" Kahiya continued, "these comments do not change anything of the reality of Kirkuk, but suggest that it is a Kurdish project."

Parizad Sha'ban, a member of the Kurdistan Alliance list in the Iraqi parliament said however that Talabani spoke to the crowd as the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – Talibani's party which enjoys popularity in Sulaimaniyah city.

"Talabani did not speak as the president of Iraq" said Sha'ban, "yet the Arab media criticize him and describe his comments as unconstitutional."

The solution to the issue of Kirkuk and other disputed areas is outlined in the Iraqi constitution's article 140; however, the article has not been implemented though it was scheduled to be implemented by the end of 2007.

Article 140 outlines a three-stage process to resolving the disputes over areas contested by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad.

The process involves a period of normalization – whereby the security environment is stabilized – followed by the restoration of the original demographic balance (which was altered by the former Iraqi regime, often at the expense of indigenous Kurds), and culminates in a referendum, which will enable local people to decide the constitutional status of these areas.

"The decades of struggle by the Kurdish people and its revolutions have all been for the sake of the restoration of the [isolated] areas including Kirkuk which is referred to as the heart and Jerusalem of Kurdistan", Sha'ban said.

"Since the September 1961 revolution led by Barzani (father of the current president of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani) till now the Kurd shave struggled and sacrificed for this cause".

Raber Younis Aziz (AKnews)

AKnews reporters Bryar Mohammed and Anmar al-Ansari contributed to this story

Wednesday, March 9th 2011 3:14 PM