In a session boycotted by Turkmen and Arab members, Kirkuk’s provincial council on Tuesday announced its decision to take part in an upcoming referendum -- slated for Sept. 25 -- on Kurdish regional independence.
According to Ali Mehdi, a Turkmen council member who boycotted the vote, only 24 council members attended Tuesday’s council session.
“The council’s decision will now be referred to Iraq’s constitutional and administrative courts,” Mehdi told Anadolu Agency.
Kirkuk’s provincial council consists of 41 members: 26 Kurds, nine Turkmen and six Arabs.
Speaking at a press conference, Hasan Turan, a Turkmen lawmaker and vice-president of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, blasted the council’s decision, describing it as “unconstitutional”.
“Kurdish council members took this decision unilaterally, which violates Iraq’s constitution,” Turan said, calling for the intervention of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and President Fuad Masum.
“The notion of holding a referendum in Kirkuk lacks legitimacy,” he added. “We [Turkmen] will take all legal steps to challenge this decision.”
Turan went on to say that -- if it is held -- Turkmen would likely boycott the poll, which they fear could lead to the region’s further destabilization.
Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kurdish Peshmerga forces seized the city and province of Kirkuk, leading to an influx of Kurds into the area.
Article 140 of Iraq’s 2005 constitution calls for the return to Kirkuk of residents forced to leave the city in the Saddam Hussein era.
Afterwards, according to the national charter, a census is to be conducted throughout the province before a referendum is held to determine Kirkuk’s status vis-à-vis Iraq’s central government.
Article 140, however, has never been implemented due to ongoing differences between Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish region’s administrative capital.
While Baghdad says Kirkuk is “administratively dependent” on Iraq’s central government, many Kurds -- including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which dominates political life in the province -- demands Kirkuk’s incorporation into the Kurdish region.
Kirkuk’s Turkmen, for their part, oppose the notion of annexation, insisting that the ethnically-diverse province enjoys a “special status”.
In a Tuesday statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry likewise blasted the provincial council’s decision, describing it as “unacceptable” and “the latest in a long series of mistakes”.
“While the independence referendum is a mistake in and of itself, the provincial council’s decision to include Kirkuk in the poll is yet another mistake -- one which also violates Iraq’s constitution,” read the statement.
The ministry went on to cite an August 17, 2017 ruling by the Baghdad Administrative Court in which the court stated that neither Kirkuk’s provincial council nor the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) enjoyed any special authority over the disputed province.
“Pursuit of this dangerous course will serve neither the KRG’s interests nor those of Iraq,” the statement added. “Nor will it find acceptance with the international community, nor will it contribute to regional peace and stability in this critical period.”
Iraq PM weighs in
Iraqi Premier al-Abadi also weighed in on the issue on Tuesday, roundly condemning the provincial council’s decision as “unacceptable” and “a mistake”.
“Decisions can’t be taken like this,” he said at a press conference hastily convened in Baghdad.
“Our region is now safe,” he added. “We should all live together.”
Source: Anadolu Agency