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Iraqi Kurdistan: Belgian Diaspora Updated on Events in Kurdistan

04 October 2008

 

Mr. Burhan Jaf, Kurdistan Region’s representative to the European Union has given his view of the situation in Kurdistan at the seminar organized by the Kurdish Information Bureau in Brussels.

 

Ten years after the establishment of the Brussels office for the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan, its current Head of Mission, Mr. Burhan Jaf, has addressed the Kurdish diaspora in a conference convened by the Brussels-based Kurdish Bureau, entitled ‘The Crises of Kirkuk and Khaneqin.’

 

Mr. Jaf provided the assembled audience, which included representatives from Kurdish groups, UNPO, and Amnesty International in Belgium, with an up-to-date assessment of the situation in Iraq. Attentions inevitably dwelt on recent troop movements and political developments within the Iraqi Government with a number of probing questions being raised by the audience. The background to the current situation was set out by Mr. Jaf, who highlighted the constitutional obligations which the Iraqi Government still had to meet under the provisions of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution.

 

These provisions had been repeatedly reiterated since they were first floated in the 2003 London Conference that set the consolidated idea of a federal solution to governing Iraq. Noting that the so-called Article 140 Committee, the body tasked with repatriating and compensating those affected by Saddam Hussein‘s policies of population transfer, had been able to register approximately ten thousand disposed families. Nevertheless, Mr. Jaf believed that the Committee was being severely hampered in its work by the failure of the Maliki administration to free the $200 million allocated to it, and much more still needed to be done to compensate the dispossessed.

 

Turning to the specific instance of Kirkuk, Mr. Jaf explained how he saw the internationalization of the issue as being a major problem and Turkey’s involvement constituted “meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign country” which was doing little, if anything, to bring a solution to the crisis closer. Recent events in Khanaqin, situated approximately 200 kilometers north-east of Baghdad and close to the Iranian border, represented a worrying marginalization of Kurdish opinion within the predominantly Shia federal government. Since July 2008, Mr. Jaf had perceived a political and geographical marginalization of Kurds that, if unchecked, risked putting Iraq back on a course to dictatorship. A series of decisions surrounding the deployment of trips to Khanaqin had reinforced this growing perception.

 

A predominantly Kurdish city, Khanaqin has been one of the most stable areas of Iraq in recent times, but the decision to replace Peshmerga with Iraqi federal troops led to unnecessary confrontation and heightening of tensions within the city. Mr. Jaf recounted that the troop deployment was preceded by a number of actions in which Prime Minister Maliki failed to inform the Iraqi Presidential Council of his decision, to consult the Iraqi Parliament, the President of Kurdistan Region, KRG’s PM or indeed to notify Mr. Masrur Barzani, Chief of the Kurdistan Region Protection Agency. These actions were a worrying “sign that the Prime Minister is not acting constitutionally”

 

Mr. Jaf maintained. The wider ramifications of the deployment to Khanaqin had been to undermine the trust between the partners in the current government coalition, which includes Kurds in several key ministries, with the result that Kurds “do not feel there is a partnership” in government if actions of this sort continue. Undoubtedly the forthcoming Iraqi provincial elections, slated for January 2009, may have been playing a role in Maliki’s posturing, but Mr. Jaf remained wary of what he saw as Mr. Malilki’s desire for Iraq to become a more overtly Islamic state, and of the Prime Minister’s supporters using Kurdish “goodwill…for their own political objectives”.

 

In closing his address, Mr. Jaf raised the question of the Iraqi government’s decision in September 2008 to purchase thirty-six Lockheed-Martin F-16 fighter jets at a cost of $3,600,000,000. Citing the woeful state of Iraq’s infrastructure, healthcare, and schooling despite estimated reserves of $80 billion from oil revenues, Mr. Jaf left the question in the air as to how this incongruity could be justified. Questions from the floor covered a spectrum of issues. One issue that raised much discussion was the need to see an improvement in the coverage of political events in Kurdistan by television channels such as KTV – feedback which Mr. Jaf indicated he would pass on to the relevant individuals. Calls for a body that could lobby in Brussels on behalf of all Kurdish groups, both those inside and outside Iraq was also raised. Mr. Jaf supported the principle and highlighted the work that the KRG had been doing, but made the point that to obtain common positions between all the Kurdish groups was problematic and very ambitious at this early stage. However he noted that more and more common ground was being found between Kurdish organizations. Nevertheless, Mr. Jaf expressed disappointment that a recent dialogue on the issue of Iran in the European Parliament had taken place without any representation from Iranian Kurds. 


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