Peshmerga forces after recapturing Makhmour from Islamic State militants last month.
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish leaders say that negotiations in Baghdad over forming a new government have faltered because the new prime minister does not have a clear plan for disputed northern territories, that the Kurds call their own.
A member of the Kurdish negotiating team in Baghdad said that one of the main preconditions by the Kurds for joining Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government is that the issue of the disputed territories in Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala has to be settled within one year.
“The Kurds demand written agreements,” said Khalid Shwani, a negotiator in Baghdad. “Those areas belong to Kurdistan and Kurds will not sit by waiting on empty promises,” he declared.
Infighting among the factions delayed the latest vote on Saturday to approve a new government.
Talks in Baghdad on forging a government, which fell through Saturday,
The Kurds have already announced that Article 140, a provision in the Iraqi constitution over the procedure to settle ownership of the lands, is dead. In June, and after the takeover of central Iraq by the Islamic State (IS) forces, Kurdish Peshmergas troops moved into all territories previously held by joint Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Kurdish leaders, among them President Massoud Barzani, have vowed they will not withdraw from those territories.
What they want now, in return for joining a government that the United States has insisted must be formed quickly to defeat Islamic militants rampaging across Iraq and Syria, are written guarantees that the territorial dispute will be resolved within a year.
“We have to make it clear to Baghdad that Article 140 is practically solved on the ground,” said Hamay Haji Mahmoud, the leader of the Kurdistan Socialist Party, who now leads Peshmerga battalions south of Kirkuk.
He said he had little hope that the negotiations with Baghdad would yield any positive results.
“But we can still try to talk to them and join Abadi’s government,” he said. “We can trust them only if Abadi says clearly that solving the territorial dispute would be part of his agenda.”
On the ground there are still many legal issues to resolve. Many Kurdish and Arab families – forcefully resettled under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s Arabization plan -- await financial compensation to move in or out of Kirkuk, as part of Article 140.
The main provision of Article 140 says that Arab families who were brought to Kirkuk under Saddam’s settlement plan have to return to their own homes in the south once financially compensated; Kurdish families displaced in the 1980s will have a chance to reclaim their lands.
According to Kakarash Sidiq, head of the Article 140 committee in Kirkuk, due to the recent hostilities in the area the compensation plan has been frozen. He said that has affected tens of thousands of Kurds and Arabs who are yet to be compensated.
Meanwhile, Peshmerga forces are engaged in daily battles with Islamist militants south of Kirkuk, as well as north of Diyala and Mosul, to expel the militants from Kurdish territories they captured last month.
The Kurds have warned that, unless they have a real role in an inclusive government Iraqi government, they will hold a referendum on independence.
“The pre-1975 map marks the borders of Kurdistan and before holding the referendum the Peshmerga will liberate those areas,” a high-ranking military official told Rudaw on condition of anonymity.
Narmin Osman, former member of the disputed territories committee, agreed that the Kurds must mark their borders before proceeding with a referendum.
However, Ahmad Askari, a provincial security official in Kirkuk, said that setting a deadline for Article 140 is not necessary. He said that the territories are already under Kurdish control “and the Iraqi army will never be able to return to Kirkuk.”
The Kurds’ list of conditions for Baghdad include: funding for the Peshmerga, the right to export oil and gas, aviation rights and well as ownership of territories on the border between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.
These territories include Shingal, which has been under IS control since early August, and the Hamrin mountain ridge, stretetching hundreds of kilometers between Iraq and the Kurdish north.
The mountain ridge and Shingal will be included in a referendum, Kurdish leaders say.