Resolving Kurd-Arab disputes must not affect Iraqi unity: Sadrist
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose political bloc is expected to win the highest number of seats in Iraq’s parliament, opposes the secession of Kurds from Iraq, a member of the Sadrist movement said on Monday, saying that resolution of disputes between Kurds and Arabs must not affect Iraqi unity.
Sadr opposes the separation of Kurds from Iraq because it could turn the Kurdistan Region into a “battlefield,” Sadrist member Issam Hussein told Rudaw’s Hawraz Gulpi. “It might cause an ethnic war, neighboring countries might interfere,” he said, referring to Turkey, Iran, and the United States.
For decades, Kurds have fought for greater autonomy from Baghdad. In September 2017, Kurds voted in a referendum to answer a simple yet decisive question of whether they wish to remain part of Iraq or create their own state. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of independence and Kurdish leaders hoped it would give them a mandate in talks with Baghdad on the issue of Kurdish rights, but instead the Kurdistan Region lost control of key disputed areas, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution focuses on the resolution of the status of areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad, including Kirkuk. Hussein said the article has been given other interpretations.
“I believe [former Kurdistan Region] President Masoud Barzani’s allies filled the minds of Iraqi civilians with the notion that article 140 means the separation of Kurds from Iraq,” Hussien said.
He said the political blocs need to emphasize that the implementation of the article will not affect the unity of Iraq.
On Sunday, Iraq held early parliamentary elections with record low turnout, reflecting voter disillusionment and mistrust in the country’s democratic process and political system. The Sadrist movement is expected to win the most seats. A spokesperson for Sadr called on supporters to be ready to celebrate on Monday, claiming they will be victorious.
Kurdish parties, mainly the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both hoped to gain seats in the disputed areas in order to strengthen their hand in places like Kirkuk, which is home to an ethnically diverse population.
The former Baath regime expelled Kurds from Kirkuk, confiscating their land and handing it over to Arab settlers in a process known as Arabization. The Iraqi national constitution finalized in 2005, two years after the US invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Baathists, sought to fix the errors of the past. Article 140 calls for compensation for both Arabs and Kurds, and the return of lands to their original owners. The article was meant to culminate in a referendum for inhabitants of the territory to decide whether to join the Kurdistan Region or remain tied to the Iraqi government by no later than 2007. The article has not been fully implemented.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Shahyan Tahseen in August that he implemented a part of the article. “I implemented all the issues related to Article 140 and prepared the land. I prepared the houses, I withdrew the villages that Saddam Hussein had created,” he said, adding that demographic changes were also fixed.
After 2017, the Kirkuk governor was accused of reviving Arabization policies.