02/28/2007, 00.00
IRAQ – TURKEY

Referendum in Kirkuk postponed by two years

News about delay is reported in Iraqi paper but has not been officially confirmed. Baghdad and Ankara, the referendum’s main opponent, agree on a later date. Issue will likely be discussed when Kurdish president talks to Turkish leaders in upcoming meeting.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – The referendum on the status of the city of Kirkuk, which was originally scheduled to take place later this year, has been postponed for two years, Iraqi newspaper Azzaman reported yesterday. According to the paper the decision was taken by Iraqi authorities with the agreement of Turkey which opposes the vote.

Kirkuk residents were scheduled to vote on whether to join the autonomous Kurdish region or remain in a Sunni province.

The decision to have the referendum postponed was taken during a visit on February 21 by Iraqi Vice-President Adel Abdulmahdi to Ankara.

After the Iraqi cabinet adopted a draft oil law on Monday, Kurds seemed to have given in also on this issue, most likely as a result of pressures from their US allies who do not want further clashes in Iraq and with Iraq’s neighbours.

In recent days tensions between Kurdistan and Turkey have mounted. Turkish authorities have warned that they might use military force if Kurdistan went ahead with plans to annex Kirkuk.

The bone of contention remains the area’s hydrocarbons; 70 per cent of Iraq’s gas is located in the area.

The fear is that if a referendum hands over the city to the Kurds, they might have enough resources to seek independence from the rest of Iraq.

Such a prospect is abhorrent to Turkey, worried that it might further accentuate Kurdish nationalism within its own borders.

Arabs living in the city are also opposed to the vote. The same is true for Turkmen who have started to complain that they are suffering from intimidation and attempts to force them to leave their homes.

Sources in Kirkuk told AsiaNews that an official announcement about the postponement could be made during an imminent meeting between Kurdish and Turkish leaders.

Two days ago the President of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, requested a meeting with Turkish leaders to discuss the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Ankara accuses Iraqi Kurds of protecting PKK fighters. Oil exploration and development in the Kurds’ autonomous region is also expected to be on the agenda.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that he was open to dialogue.

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