05/11/2012 RUDAW By HEVIDAR AHMED – In an interview with Rudaw, Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk, suggests that the province should be annexed to the Kurdistan Region. Kirkuk is one of the disputed territories that both the federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) lay claim to. Karim also says that Kurdish parties will participate in the next provincial election as one united alliance.
Rudaw: It is said that, since 2003, Kurds have been part of the Kirkuk problem and got in the way of finding a solution. How true is this statement?
Najmaldin Karim: There have been some problems since 2003, particularly between the PUK and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which are the two ruling parties in Kirkuk and Kurdistan. In some offices, they have assigned individuals to certain posts that cannot operate in that post. Sometimes, when an official has been listed for removal due to corruption, the official changes his political party and thus avoids being removed. This has dealt the biggest blow to us. We have to criticize both the PUK and KDP in this regard. They are the ruling parties here in Kirkuk.
Rudaw: Since you have a strong relationship with the Kurdish and Iraqi presidents, why don’t you inform them of this?
Najmaldin Karim: This problem is not only in Kirkuk. In Kurdistan, our ministries have allegedly united, but in practice they are still divided. It is true that our Asayish (security forces) have been merged, but this is only in name; they have not merged in practice. What is happening in Kirkuk is an extention of what is going on in the Kurdistan Region.
Rudaw: Do you think Kirkuk’s problems will be solved through Article 140?
Najmaldin Karim: No doubt this article has some problems, like the lack of a time limit for its implementation. Also, some towns have been placed in the article that are already part of Kurdistan. They should have not been placed there and put under negotiations of whether they are in Kurdistan or not. Anyway, this has been done and now we have a constitutional article.
“What is happening in Kirkuk is an extention of what is going on in the Kurdistan Region.”
Another mistake of the Kurds has been trusting Baghdad. Kurds believed Baghdad had good intentions and would implement the article. But it turned out that this optimism was not appropriate. Now, Article 140 is not being talked about in the Iraqi Council of Ministers or Iraqi Parliament. Recently, the issue of correcting the provincial borders was discussed between President Talabani and President Barzani. This was decided, but also has to be taken to parliament for the first reading.
Rudaw: Is there any alternative to Article 140 for the disputed areas? What can be done in this regard?
Najmaldin Karim: The Kurdish political parties and other parties have to explain their views on the future of Kirkuk. Let’s say the people of Kirkuk vote or want to vote to return the province to Kurdistan. You have to assure the people, you have to assure the Turkmen and Arabs, and have a program to show the people of Kirkuk what Kirkuk’s future will look like under a Kurdish administration.
Rudaw: Do you have any particular suggestion in this regard?
Najmaldin Karim: Yes, I do. Kirkuk is not Erbil; it’s not Sulaimani or Duhok. Kirkuk has to be treated differently by the Kurdistan Region. In Kurdistan, the government is very centralized. Now, with all the shortcomings of Baghdad, Kirkuk is more decentralized than Kurdistan’s provinces. We have to preserve this decentralization and expand it.
We also have to show the Turkmen and Arabs what they can have in Kurdistan’s Council of Ministers and ministries. We have to have their representation in Kurdistan’s leadership and parliament. They have to have an allocated budget from Kurdistan’s budget.
Rudaw: The Iraqi government has decided that provincial elections should take place in April 2013. Will elections be carried out in Kirkuk as well?
Najmaldin Karim: We are hoping that elections will take place in Kirkuk as well. We have told the United Nations and the U.S. that we are ready for the election and we will not accept any conditions on Kirkuk’s provincial elections. We want an election and we believe it is in the interest of Kirkuk. All the Kurdish political parties have decided to participate in the election in one bloc.
Frankly speaking, the biggest problem now is the Turkmen. They are worried about the result of the election. We have told them that we will sit with them to find a solution. They are an original component of Kirkuk’s community and their rights will not be violated. We will not tie their rights to the number of seats they win in the elections. Their rights have to be protected. We have told them that we are willing to participate in the elections in one bloc or form an alliance after the elections.
The Arabs would also like to have the elections carried out. They want to participate in the elections and have members in provincial council. However, they had some conditions on the elections. One of the conditions they were trying to impose was that the Kirkuk provincial elections should not take place at the same time as Kurdistan’s provincial elections. Later, we found out why they were pushing for this. We have many Kirkuki Kurds who live in Kurdistan provinces and abroad and they cannot come to Kirkuk to vote. So we did not accept this condition.
“Frankly speaking, the biggest problem now is the Turkmen. They are worried about the result of the election.”
Rudaw: What is your expectation for Kurdish votes in the election?
Najmaldin Karim: If an election is carried out now, Kurds will win about 54 percent of the votes in Kirkuk province.
Rudaw: Let’s talk about the Dijla Operations Command. Were you consulted by the Iraqi government about its formation?
Najmaldin Karim: Before the formation of the Dijla Operations Command, I sensed there were attempts to form the force. On May 2, I visited Baghdad and met with the Iraqi defense minister and asked him about it. He said it was just an idea. As I understood it, he was not really excited about forming the Dijla forces, but suggested I discuss the matter with the prime minister himself. I met Maliki later and told him that the formation of the Dijla forces was not a good idea and would not serve Kirkuk and the region. Maliki said it was just a suggestion and not to worry, it would not be formed. But at the end of July, without informing us, all the security forces, including the police and army, were placed under the command of the Dijla Operations Command.
I immediately sent Prime Minister Maliki a letter and informed him that we were against the formation of the Dijla forces. The Kirkuk police refused to participate in the Dijla Operations Command. We assured the Kirkuk police that Baghdad could not take any steps against them. This situation continued. I went to Baghdad and met with Maliki. I told him that if he wanted a war, then he should let the formation of the Dijla forces proceed, but that if he wanted peace he would have to cancel the formation of this force.
What Maliki is trying to do is declare emergency status. If you place all the powers under the authority of the military, you are declaring an emergency status. But this has to be approved by parliament, even if such a status was needed. What Maliki is doing is unconstitutional.
Maliki agreed and said that the 12th division and police would report to the governor and the governor would be the head of the security committee. But, in practice, none of this has taken place.
“We will not allow any force to enter Kirkuk.”
As long as I am the governor of Kirkuk I will not allow the Dijla forces to proceed. I have full support from Kurdistan’s leadership and all the Kurdish parties.
Rudaw: Do you feel like you are left alone in the fight against the formation of the Dijla Operations Command and the Kurdish representatives in Baghdad are not doing much about it?
Najmaldin Karim: Our colleagues in Baghdad could have done a little more. This subject should have been discussed in Iraqi Parliament. They should have summoned the Iraqi defense minister to parliament. What is the Kurdish representative good for if he is silent in such a situation?
The Iraqi Army’s general commander has to speak up as well. He could have said that he does not agree with the formation of the Dijla Operations Command. Silence makes the crisis bigger. Why are they not silent about matters like oil, gas and the budget? I do not mean the Kurdistan Region; I am talking about our representatives in Baghdad. Kurds do not have a strategy for the issues. What the Kurds do is react to actions. We have to have a strategy and plans.
Rudaw: If the Dijla forces enter Kirkuk, will Peshmerga forces allow them?
Najmaldin Karim: So far, no forces have come to Kirkuk. And we will not allow any force to enter Kirkuk. We have prepared ourselves for all possibilities. Kirkuk is a disputed province and no one party can decide unilaterally to change the balance of power in the city. The Kurdistan Region has as many rights in Kirkuk as Baghdad does. Therefore, no force can easily enter Kirkuk. And when Kurdistan’s minister of Peshmerga came to Kirkuk, we all heard what he said.