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Deadlock in Kirkuk as Provincial Council delayed

Deadlock in Kirkuk: Inauguration of Provincial Council delayed due to power-sharing disputes
4 min read
14 February, 2024
The Kirkuk Provincial Council has been stalled for over a month due to disagreements among key stakeholders on power-sharing after elections held in December.
The dispute is on Kirkuk's governor post, the Kurds, the Turkmens, and the Arabs consider the post as their entitlement. [Getty]

The Kirkuk Provincial Council has faced a significant hurdle in convening its inaugural session for over a month now. The main stakeholders in the disputed province have struggled to reach a consensus on power-sharing following the first provincial election since 2005.

On 18 December, Iraq held its first provincial election in ten years, with more than 23 million eligible voters spread across 15 provinces, excluding four in the northern Kurdistan region. After Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) officially confirmed the final election results on 21 January, the Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC) on 5 February failed to reach a quorum for its session as elected council members from the Arab and Turkmen components boycotted it. 

"The KPC would not be able to convene until a settlement is reached among the three main components, as the Arab and Turkmen blocs continue to boycott the sessions," Azam al-Hamdani, spokesperson of the Uruba bloc representing Arabs from Kirkuk, told The New Arab in an interview.

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"The dispute is on Kirkuk's governor post; the Kurds, the Turkmens, and the Arabs consider the post as their entitlement. We, as Arabs, insist that Kirkuk's governor must be ours because we managed to preserve stability in the province. Kirkuk's local government should be established through compromise since no component can run all the posts through electoral entitlements," he added. 

The oil-rich city of Kirkuk and its districts, some areas of Diyala, and the Nineveh provinces are considered contested areas between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Article 140 of the Iraqi permanent constitution outlined measures in which those areas could remain as part of Iraq or join the KRG. However, implementation has been stalled since 2007.

A notable shift in Kirkuk's political landscape emerged in the recent elections, with Kurdish parties, including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), losing their majority.

The PUK secured five seats with 157,649 votes, while the KDP won two seats with 52,278 votes in the 16-seat provincial council. Arab parties won six seats, Turkmens secured two, and a Christian party affiliated with Shia militias won the Christian quota seat.

Nashat Shahwez, a member of KPC from the PUK bloc, told TNA that Kirkuk's governor is the share of his party. He also said that negotiations among the three different components are ongoing, and settling the disputes doesn't seem likely soon.  

The KDP and the PUK recently held several meetings, and they declared their intention to collaborate in official negotiations with other components to form a new local administration in Kirkuk.

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Asked whether the PUK and KDP have reached any bilateral agreement, Shahwez said he is unaware of the details and cannot speak on the issue. 

TNA also contacted Mohammed Kamal, head of the KDP's third branch in Kirkuk, but he was not immediately available to comment. 

Ali Mahdi, advisor to The Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), a prominent Turkmen political party, told TNA that they have proposed the rotational power-sharing of senior administrative, military, and security posts among the primary components in Kirkuk Governorate.

He stressed as the Kurds and Arabs insist the post of Kirkuk's governor should be their own, ITF's initiative could be negotiated as a centrist solution. He also indicated that the power-sharing issue in Kirkuk cannot be reached except via compromise. 

Iraqi President Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid signed presidential decrees on Tuesday appointing governors for the provinces of Baghdad, Basra, Nineveh, Babylon, Karbala, Wasit, Dhi Qar, Najaf, Anbar, Muthanna, Maysan and Diwaniyah after completing the verification procedures by the legal department.

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According to Iraq's Law for Provincial Council Elections, the elected councils should hold the first session within 15 days following the ratification of the final election results. 

Mahdi stressed, however, that there is no legal issue that KPC should delay its first session because the legal quorum cannot be reached until a comprehensive settlement is reached among the political parties and blocs representing the diverse Kirkuk province.

In 2014, peshmerga security forces assumed control of Kirkuk but were subsequently expelled in 2017 by federal troops after a referendum on Kurdish independence. Tensions persist, evident in a September incident last year where four Kurds were reportedly killed by gunfire from Iraq's security forces amid unrest in the province.

In provincial elections held in 2005, Kurds secured 26 out of 41 seats, Turkmen won nine, but Sunni Arabs only won six seats as most of the community boycotted the political process.

Iraq's neighbouring countries, especially Iran and Turkey, and key international players, including the US and the UK, play vital roles in drafting the political map in Kirkuk because the province contains large amounts of proven oil and gas.