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The deadline for the draft of Iraq’s new constitution seemed likely to be missed on Monday but I am hopeful that agreement can be reached soon. With our colleagues in the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance and with other groups we are making progress in designing a new, federal and democratic Iraq. Amid the finger-pointing that often accompanies negotiations, some blame Kurdistan for the delay. In fact, those causing the most difficulties are unrepresentative Sunni Arab politicians nostalgic for the Iraq of Saddam Hussein.
We are negotiating in good faith because a new constitution, a fresh start, is in our interests. The Kurdistan Alliance includes Kurds, Turkmen, Chaldo-Assyrians and others. It holds 77 seats in the 275-strong Iraqi National Assembly. Its duty is to advance Iraq’s democratisation and end the centralised despotism of the Ba’athists.
However, we are not in Baghdad to negotiate away Kurdistan’s rights. We must keep the autonomy with which we have been able to safeguard our region’s security, ensure relative prosperity and educate our people so that women as well as men play an equal role in society and politics. We have and shall maintain the highest standards of protections for national and religious minorities.
We must have restitution for the wrongs committed against our people. In Kirkuk, an integral part of Kurdistan, historically and geographically, our people were expelled, and the provincial boundaries manipulated. There must be a timetabled referendum, on a fair suffrage and with the right boundaries, to enable the Kirkuk governorate to join the rest of Kurdistan.
Critics cynically suggest that our position is motivated by oil, specifically the oil fields in the city of Kirkuk, and by a desire for independence. We certainly regard it as an outrage that one of the world’s largest oil fields sits astride a disgracefully and deliberately neglected city.
In truth, oil has so far been a curse for us all. Had there been no oil, Saddam Mr Hussein and his Ba’athists would not have fought us over Kirkuk, carried out expulsions, infused the region with settlers or gerrymandered the boundaries to tip the balance against the Kurdish and Turkman peoples. Properties were confiscated, and citizenship and other records falsified. Even the name of the Kirkuk governorate, within which the city lies, was changed. When Saddam Mr Hussein fell, only a handful of Kurds were working in the oil industry. The reversal of SaddamMr Hussein’s crimes must be de jure, democratic, transparent and enshrined in the new constitution.
Kurdistan is willing, however, to separate the issues of territory and oil. The benefits of oil should be fairly distributed. Revenue sharing must be equitable, and no Baghdad government must ever again be able to blackmail us (by depriving us of our per capita entitlements).
Regional ownership of natural resources is critical to the creation of the strong federal regions that will give all Iraqis the decentralised democracy and new voluntary union, the truly shared country, that we need. Detailed mechanisms to ensure revenue-sharing may be worked out now or later.
The currently exploited oil field in Kirkuk may be organised to generate federal, regional and local revenues for the benefit of all in Iraq. But Kurdistan must have full ownership of our currently unexploited natural resources, to consolidate our development and ensure that we never again suffer the predations of a genocidal regime in Baghdad. Kirkuk is but one of Kurdistan’s red lines in the negotiation of the permanent constitution. We must keep the legal autonomy that our region has had since 1991 when the US, Britain and France established a safe haven in Kurdistan. A small number of competences, such as foreign policy, should remain the exclusive competence of Baghdad. We must control our internal security, including the lawful army of Kurdistan, the peshmerga.
The system we propose of regional ownership of natural resources occurs in many leading oil-exporting federations and is a view that a view shared by some of our leading Shia Arab colleagues share.
Kurdistan’s leaders do not have a free hand either to forget the past or to to remake the future. The decision to accept the constitution will not be made by me or the president of Kurdistan, but by our National Assembly, and by our people voting in a referendum. If Kurdistan’s red lines are not met – a fair referendum in Kirkuk, control of our natural resources, recognition of our lawful army and meaningful law-making powers – our people will reject any new Iraqi constitution.
Last January, 2m Kurdistanis voted in an unofficial referendum on independence: 98 per cent wanted to separate from Iraq. If my colleagues and I are to persuade them to be part of a new Iraq, they will have to believe that their rights will be protected. That is why we are working hard to get a viable and lasting settlement.
The writer is prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government