The state of Ninawa is a troubled one, with Kurdish and Arab residents in conflict over politics, power and land ownership. NIQASH spoke to a senior Kurdish politician about Kurdish military presence there and whether the Kurdish will push for their own nation.
The local government of the Iraqi state of Ninawa is one of the most troubled in Iraq. Ninawa’s council first convened on April 12, 2009, after local elections that saw the political balance of power tip in favour of the Hadba list, comprised of parties with an Arab majority. Hadba’s main rival, the Kurdish-dominated Ninawa Brotherly List, had previously dominated the council although this was mainly because when the first round of provincial elections was held, the local Sunni Arab population boycotted them. At the time al-Qaeda were in control of the area. All of which meant that the Kurdish parties – the Kurdish population is in the minority in the province – were elected to take charge after the first provincial elections with a significant majority.
However after the second round of elections in 2009, when the Sunni Arab majority did vote, the Arab dominated bloc took control of the council.
The 37 seats of Ninawa’s council are now distributed like this: the Hadba list has 19 seats, the Islamic party and the Shabak and Yazidi minorities have three seats each and the single Christian representative, one seat. Kurdish politicians still managed to gain 12 seats, around a quarter of the votes, but after the Arab parties took all of the major positions of power on the council, the Kurdish walked out. They said they would boycott the council operations indefinitely due to the unfair imbalance in leadership positions.
Mohammed Amin Daloyee is the head of the Mosul branch of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the party led by the president of the semi autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan region.
The Christian member of the council has also been refusing to attend council meetings because, internal sources say, of pressure from the Kurdish politicians.
Additionally a number of Ninawa’s districts, the ones which have a Kurdish majority living in them, including Shikhan, Makhmour and Shunnar, also made it clear that they would not be governed by the new Arab-dominated council. They also asked that their districts be made part of the neighbouring semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan.
But problems in the area do not just revolve around the distribution of ministerial positions. Politicians on the Hadba list have also said that they will not tolerate the annexation of any of Ninawa’s districts in favour of Iraqi Kurdistan. And that is even if Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution is implemented and finds this to be a fair solution to former policies of Arabisation.
Article 140 was formulated in 2003 to remedy the expulsions, the ethnic cleansing and Arabisation led by former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, through three steps. These are, firstly, normalization – a return of Kurds and other residents displaced by Arabisation – followed by a census taken to determine the demographic makeup of the province’s population and then finally, a referendum to determine the status of disputed territories. Obviously whether a territory is home to mainly Kurds or mainly Arabs will have an effect on who can lay claim to the area.
The Hadba list also considers illegal the presence of Kurdish military forces, who say they are there to protect the lives of Kurdish citizens living in the area.
NIQASH: Some politicians from within the state’s government have said that Article 140 is “dead” and that there is no way it can ever be acted upon. Your reaction to those kinds of comments?
Mohammed Amin Daloyee: To those who say that Article 140 is dead or impossible to implement, we say that this is nonsense. It is one of the current articles of the Iraqi Constitution, which was approved by 80 percent of the Iraqi people.
By saying that this Article is insignificant, they’re insinuating that the whole Iraqi Constitution is insignificant too. And those who think this way obviously do not want a united Iraq. They’re also expressing hostility toward the Kurdish people.
For eight decades we have been fighting for our rights and Article 140 is part of a reinstatement of some of those rights. We insist that this Article is correct because we have chosen to live in Iraq as a united country.
NIQASH: Some have also said that Article 140 does not apply to the whole of Ninawa, rather, that it only applies to the city of Kirkuk.
Daloyee: It is as clear as daylight which areas are being disputed. There are 16 administrative districts in the state of Ninawa that have a Kurdish majority. Article 140 tackles three issues: normalization, a census and a referendum. All of which will allow the people living in these areas to determine the future of the district they live in.
Those who say that Article 140 only applies to Kirkuk are wrong.
NIQASH: Despite the fact that you were voted into power, your political coalition has boycotted the state government for the past two and a half years. How much does your boycott have to do with how your opposition, the Arab-majority Hadba list, has taken up most of the significant posts in the local government – and when do you think the boycott might end?
Daloyee: Mainly we demand a part in decision making in Ninawa. We’re not as concerned about the governmental posts. Having said that, because we have 12 seats – that is one third of the seats in the state government – we believe we have a right to some of them. We accepted the results of the election but there are those who do not want us to participate in decision making. And this is why we have decided to boycott the provincial government.
NIQASH: The governor of Ninawa, Atheel al-Nujaifi, appears to have attempted to bring your party and the Hadba party closer together in order to resolve this dispute. But your party doesn’t seem to be responding well to these attempts.
Daloyee: If the Hadba makes one move, then we will be happy to make two. But words should be followed by deeds – and unfortunately this has not happened. Negotiations between the two lists are taking place at the highest levels but as I said earlier, the biggest obstacle to any resolution is the way in which our members have been marginalized and excluded from the decision making process.
NIQASH: Apparently there’s been deterioration in state services in the 16 administrative districts under Kurdish control. So who is responsible for that deterioration: the Kurdish politicians or the state government?
Daloyee: These areas are still the responsibility of Ninawa’s provincial authority. And they’re suffering because of the unfair way in which the state’s budget for development was distributed, both this year and last year. For example, the Sinjar district – which is one of the poorest in Iraq with a per capita income of one Iraqi dinar a day [US$0.80 cents] – has suffered injustice and deprivation for decades. Saddam Hussein did not allow the Kurdish people in this area to earn a living and they are still suffering today. The provincial council continues to neglect this area – despite the fact that floods destroyed property and displaced hundreds of people in April 2011.
NIQASH: There are politicians who have called for the removal of Kurdish security and military forces in the region, the Peshmerga and the Asayish. They consider them an illegal vanguard of a greater military force sponsored by the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Daloyee: The members of the Peshmerga did not come from another planet. They’re often residents of the areas in which they work. And generally, they have intervened because they were asked to do so by Iraq’s former prime minister Ayed Allawi. If the Peshmerga had not been deployed in places like Sinjar, Tal Afar, Bartella and Zamar, then terrorists would have claimed the lives of many more innocent people. People have absolute confidence in the Peshmerga – we don’t attack anyone and we do not accept to be attacked. Terrorism doesn’t care whether you are Arab or Kurdish.
NIQASH: What is your assessment of the security situation in Ninawa?
Daloyee: So far, it’s stable but let’s be honest: the city of Mosul will not be safe or secure unless there is proper cooperation between all parties, especially the true representatives of the Ninawa province. Terrorists are continuously targeting the Kurds and official statistics indicate that more than 2,000 Kurds have been killed in the city of Mosul. Tens of thousands have left the city and many of them have lost their homes. Politicians deliberately overlook this, or even twist the truth.
NIQASH: Recently a National Reconciliation Conference was held in Mosul – the purpose of these conferences is to try and heal ethnic and religious divisions in the Iraqi community. What are your thoughts on these kinds of events?
Daloyee: As a party, and as a political bloc, we are for national reconciliation. We always extend our hand to the Arabs and we care about Basra and Baghdad as much as we care about Erbil [the capital of the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan]. We want to build up all the cities of Iraq in the same way that we want to build up Kurdistan. President Massoud al-Barzani has confirmed this on many occasions. But it should also be acknowledged that we have rights, we have a heritage and a history and our own language – and we have decided to live in Iraq.
Those who say that Article 140 of the Constitution is no longer relevant are pushing the Kurdish people to demand secession. We, the Kurdish people, have chosen to live in Iraq but only if Article 140 is acted upon.