Both external powers and internal divisions are intensifying the struggle for control over Kirkuk, impacting the city’s demographic and political landscape, argued Sîham Roj, a Kurdish journalist based in the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI), in an interview with Mezopotamya Agency’s Ömer Akın on Sunday.
Discussing the intricate dynamics surrounding the governor elections in Kirkuk, Roj pointed out that regional powers including Turkey, Iran, Iraq and the United States are keen on asserting their dominance over the resource-rich city.
Amid ongoing Turkish military operations in Zap, Avaşîn, and Metîna, mountainous regions in northern Iraq, and the forthcoming establishment of a new administration in Kirkuk, significant diplomatic activities were noted. The head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MİT), İbrahim Kalın, alongside his delegation, engaged in a series of meetings in Iraq, followed by discussions with Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) President Masoud Barzani in Erbil (Hewlêr). Subsequently, Turkish Defence Minister Yaşar Güler visited Iraq, where he met with key Kurdish leaders in Baghdad and the Kurdish Region, emphasising the importance of continued cooperation for regional security and stability. A pivotal topic during these discussions was the “Sinjar (Şengal) Agreement”, targeting the governance of the Sinjar Autonomous Administration.
Roj elaborated on the efforts by Turkey to prevent the appointment of a Kurdish governor in Kirkuk, especially after the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) secured the most votes. This manoeuvring by Turkey through Turkmen and Sunni Arab factions is sparking new crises in the region, according to Roj. Following the elections, an agreement was reached between the PUK and the KDP to nominate a Kurdish governor, necessitating the support of at least nine out of 16 council members in the city’s assembly.
Roj expressed concern over the continuous struggle against the Kurdish population in regions like Kirkuk and Mosul, where demographic changes are being enforced to diminish Kurdish presence. “Kirkuk is being positioned as an Arab or Turkmen city, sidelining its Kurdish identity. Particularly, Turkey’s aspiration to include Kirkuk within its ‘National Pact’ boundaries manifests in its intent to control the city,” Roj stated.
The journalist also highlighted the complexity of alliances and political strategies within Kirkuk, where Turkey, Iran and Iraq each have their agendas, often resulting in divisions among Kurdish factions. The unexpected electoral success of the PUK, according to Roj, reflects a collective Kurdish effort to retain Kirkuk’s Kurdish character, amidst significant external pressures.
Roj warned of a “do or die” battle looming in Kirkuk, exacerbated by the boycott of Turkmen and Arab council members during recent assembly meetings, signalling a challenging period ahead. Despite the unity between PUK and KDP for the city’s governance, the overarching challenge remains in navigating through the intricate political landscape shaped by external influences and internal divisions.