CAIRO (UPI/PUK.org)–Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani said the oil-rich center of Kirkuk is as important for Kurds as East Jerusalem is for Arabs and Muslims.
In an interview with the Cairo daily al-Ahram on Wednesday–Talabani said–"Kirkuk is a sacred city for Kurds as much as Jerusalem is for Muslim and we have been struggling for it for more than 40 years."
Talabani–whose Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has been sharing control of Iraq’s Kurdistan with Massud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party since 1991–said past Iraqi governmen’s were ready to recognize the autonomy of Kurdistan–excluding Kirkuk. "Historically and demographically speaking–Kirkuk was never part of Iraq but part of Kurdistan."
Talabani stressed that Kurds do not seek to secede from Iraq but want the right of autonomy under a federal system to be recognized.
While there is a consensus among most Iraqi political groups about the establishment of a federal form of government in the post-Saddam Iraq–there is disagreement about the nature of such federalism. Without exception–the non-Kurdish Iraqi majority favors the federalism of the provinces. Iraq is divided into 18 provinces and–according to this view–each province should have some degree of autonomy within a federal framework that leaves much of the power at the center in Baghdad. Since most provinces–including those in the north–have a mixture of ethnic groups including Arabs–Kurds–Turkmen–Assyrians–and Christians–this scheme will loosely limit the Kurdish control over at most three provinces–Sulaymaniyya–Erbil and Dhouk–that have enjoyed political autonomy since 1991.
By contrast–the Kurds have insisted on regional federalism that would bring into one region–and one political framework–all the provinces with substantial Kurdish populations–including the city of Kirkuk. The additional Kurdish insistence to keep Kirkuk as part of the regional federation scheme stems from the argument that the city has undergone a process of "Arabization" under the Saddam regime. The idea of the federation of provinces is rejected–according to Talabani–because "throughout its history–the Kurdish people have struggled to prevent the separation of the Kurdish provinces from each other and to protect the integrity of the historical Kurdish borders."
According to Mahmoud Othman–a Kurdish member of the Governing Council–the annexation of Kirkuk into a Kurdish region is not meant to "Kurdicize" the city but to remove the relics of its Arabization. According to Othman–the 1959 census has shown a majority of Kurds in Kirkuk and that majority should be the sole criterion in determining its future.