A Kurdish flag and flowers in Khanaqin at the site of a suicide bombing that killed 20 people at a PUK election rally in April. Photo: Rudaw
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Unless a solution is found in a year, Iraq’s Kurdistan Region should annex the large tracts of territories in dispute with the Arab central government in Baghdad, said a senior leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
“If the constitution isn’t going to solve it, then let us annex the Kurdish territories to the Kurdistan Region,” said Mala Bakhtyar, speaking to party members and supporters on Monday in a speech at Duhok University.
He said that the Kurds would wait only one more year before deciding to annex those areas to Kurdistan.
The “disputed territories” are lands between the Kurdistan Region in the north and the rest of Iraq. These areas include large parts of Kirkuk, Diyala and Nineveh.
The Iraqi constitution stipulates a referendum to decide on those territories, after certain conditions have been met under Article 140. But first, it calls for relocation of Arab families settled in the disputed territories by the former regime and the return of expelled Kurdish families.
“Rest assured that we will not let Article 140 be omitted from the Iraqi constitution,” Bakhtyar vowed.
Apart from vast unsettled farmlands, the town of Khanaqin, Makhmur, Shekhan, Shangal and most importantly energy-rich Kirkuk, fall within the disputed territories.
More than 10 years after Saddam Hussein’s downfall in 2003, the Kurds appear to have lost hope that the constitution would solve an issue that remains the main dispute between the Kurds and Iraq. Kurdish leaders accuse Baghdad of insincerity about the issue and unnecessary procrastination.
Politically and militarily the Kurds are present and have the upper hand in these areas. But legally, they are under the jurisdiction of the central government of Iraq.
This PUK message follows its victory in last month’s parliamentary elections in Kirkuk and Khanaqin, Mala Bakhtyar’s own home town.
Kurdish leaders have long said that the identity and future of the Kurdish areas are non-negotiable.
Last week, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani warned that if serious rows with Baghdad remain unresolved, the Kurds will hold a referendum on splitting from Iraq, together with the disputed territories.
Earlier, Barzani also decreed that the lands in question should be referred to as “Kurdish territories outside the Kurdistan Region,” instead of the “disputed territories.”
The Kurdistan Region enjoys a great deal of autonomy, with its own parliament, regional government, foreign relations, military and security forces. The disputed territories, however, remain vulnerable to attacks from insurgent groups. Deadly attacks in Kirkuk and Khanaqin have killed hundreds of people over the past several years.