Kirkuk and the Future of Iraq

Democracy in Babylon

The state of democracy in Iraq after the ouster of President Saddam Hussein from power I still filled with confusion despite the many institutional and governance reforms which has been undertaken by the U.S and its allies. A case example is the recent parliamentary elections. Although the electoral system was fully computerized to alleviate possibilities of electoral malpractices, the Iraqi Prime Minister lamented that the process was fraudulent and that democracy was not upheld at all.

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Al-Maliki was highly optimistic about winning the elections and maintains the Premiership position contrary to the election results.

To attain election victory, it has been imperative to form political alliances.1 This was not the situation during the era of Saddam Hussein and the former regimes which arbitrarily imposed themselves in power against the will of the majority. The alliance system seems to be the most viable political to rise to the helm of leadership. Currently, there are two big Kurdish blocs that have been strong opponents to the Shiite Alliance. Moreover, the emerging close ties between the Supreme Council and the Iranian authorities have destabilized the democracy equation owing to external influence regarding electoral matters.

In tracing the historical background of the Iraqi constitution, the provisions in this document, enacted way back in 1925 only permitted a monarch rule with two houses namely the Senate and House of Representatives. Although some elements of democracy existed whereby only men were allowed to vote in the lower house, the overall implication was a democratic vacuum because successive regimes came into power through coup actions. This led to unpopular leadership which marred the Iraq state for several decades.

The current political structure allows the integration of both the Arabs and Kurds into governance in addition to participating in the voting process.2 A key feature of the flawed electoral process in Iraq was seen in 2002 when Saddam was announced by Iraqi authorities that he had won the elections by 100 percent. In fact, later evidence revealed that people were compelled to vote in favor of Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, after he was overthrown by the U.S and British soldiers, the interim government that was formed incorporated all the Iraqi ethnic and religious groups into its governance structure improving the state of deteriorating democracy.3

The restoration of democracy was more evident when the transitional government organized the first elections at the beginning of 2005. This was deemed necessary because the country needed a new lease of governing laws and which could only be enacted with a stable government in place.

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The January 2005 elections were seen by many including the Kurds and the Shi’as as the true practice of democracy owing to fair representation of all groups. Moreover, no significant cases of malpractice were recorded before and during the elections. Realistically speaking, the first elections held by the Interim government marked the beginning of genuine democracy in Iraq. Although not much had been achieved in the circles of democracy by this time, the free and fair elections acted as a major liberation to the wider Iraqi population who had been politically marginalized over the years.

The Interim Constitution adopted by the transitional government gave a blueprint for the adoption of a permanent constitution that would remain firmly entrenched as a legal document governing the Iraq state. This was yet another avenue through which Iraqis would exercise their democratic rights by approving the proposed new constitution in a referendum. A majority “yes” vote would be required to pass the proposed constitution in addition to the Governorates clause. However, the National Assembly diluted the second clause by stating that the proposed constitution would not pass if two-thirds gave a no vote.

The referendum date was set for 15th October 2005. the election results were slightly delayed due to the turnout in some regions which required thorough checking of the records. Although there were isolated claims from some Sunni politicians of electoral fraud the External observers from the United Nations Organization confirmed that the process was free and fair amid tight security. Finally, upon the release of the election outcome, the constitution had been passed with overall support of about 80 percent. 4

The passing of this constitution implied that a permanent government had to be instituted in place before the close of 2005. Meanwhile, during the opinion polls, even those who had hitherto been detained due to security reasons were permitted to cast their votes, displaying a growing edge in the level of democracy. This was the first time ever detainees were allowed to parti8ciapte in a democratic process.

The January 2010 parliamentary election is one of the latest practices of democracy in Iraq whereby the elections are supposed to be held after every four years before the expiry of the third month. The constitution is very clear on the electoral processes to be used including the required systems of checks and balances especially in cases where electoral malpractices are likely to be encountered.

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Despite these political developments in Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power, there are emerging criticisms from political skeptics who strongly believe that the realization of democracy in Iraq is a long-forgotten dream having emerged as a notable perpetrator of human unjust practices from time immemorial. It is indeed true that Iraq has not known the definition of democracy in its borders up to and until 2003 when Saddam Hussein was forcefully ousted from authority. Likewise, the previous regimes in Iraq prior to Saddam Hussein’s never went on record as loyal friends to democracy.

Nevertheless, the adoption of the new constitution which came into force through a popular vote alongside the subsequent and successful electoral processes are key indicators of the growing democracy even after decades of political immorality perpetrated against the Iraqi people.

Central versus Federal

The sovereign transitional Iraqi government assumed power from Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) immediately after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.5 The power agreement was signed on 24th June 2004. This interim authority took charge of the process of reconstructing the Iraqi governance system with special emphasis on the structure and viability of governing ministries and the role of the central government. These ministries had hitherto existed even during the reign of Saddam but were considered highly corrupt and ineffective hence there was a need to restructure them.6 Additionally, the key governing institution opted for a centralized system of government.

The governing organ was to execute its authority at the national level. This arrangement eliminated the possibility of having sub-national governing organs of the regional governments. In this regard, the central government became stronger since it was mandated to execute all the major government operations right from the level of decision-making to the process of implementation.

By mid of 2004, close to half a billion U.S dollars had been committed to supporting the operations of the interim government. At the same time, the U.S government was pushing for the formation of sub-national or regional governments.7 This led to the integration of both the central and regional governments run by the Iraqis but with regular assistance from C.P.A and the U.S government.

Nevertheless, the degree of discontent emerged between those who supported a stronger central government and a weaker regional one and vice versa. Of key importance was the manner in which the central authority would harness the power to control oil revenue generated from the Kirkuk field which has been a bone of contention from time immemorial. In fact, by adopting a strong central government, the U.S insurgence through its unlimited powers would divert the revenue from oil mostly drilled from Kirkuk which accounts for nearly half of the Iraqis total oil production. This argument has been the cause for security problems coupled with terrorist attacks targeting the officials of the central government who are believed to be strong opponents to the formation of powerful regional governments.

The Kurds who are mainly of Kirkuk origin are key instruments in the political organization of Baghdad. However, they are always at loggerheads with Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister over the regions of conflict like Kirkuk. The central government has taken an adamant position to discuss the decentralization process which would strengthen the regional governments and weaken the central authority. This is being perceived by the Baghdad government as a way of relinquishing power especially that which will enable it to control oil resources from Kirkuk alongside other disputed areas.8

Moreover, the central government is of a contrary opinion on the plan to develop oil and gas, and the implementation plan which has been proposed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which is run by the Kurds in the northern part of Iraq. The Oil Minister has termed this proposal by the Kurds as going against the law and therefore grossly unconstitutional. Indeed, if stronger regional governments were enacted in preference to the central government, KRG would have had a firm base and authority to control oil resources at Kirkuk in the north.

This is why the Baghdad government is not ready to relinquish its authority to the regional governments. As a result, the tussle between the two opponents has led to a constant state of insecurity in wider Iraq. This security threat has further hampered the smooth running of the central government.

The Kurds who are mainly at the center of controversy with the central government are not Arabs and they have supported the U.S insurgence in Iraq much more than any other faction.9 It should be noted that after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the consequent takeover by the U.S authority, among the first reform agenda which was implemented on the governance structure was the creation of sustainable regional governments. These local authorities were expected to supplement the role of the central government. Notwithstanding this imposition, the central government has never been pleased at all and to make matters worse the proposals to strengthen the regional government.

The Kurds have also been living with the fear of being persecuted. Due to this form of alienation by the majority Arabs, they have constantly sought to remain autonomous through a stronger regional government in the north, incorporating Kirkuk as one of their zones. There are major Kurdish factions which have been spearheading the formation of stronger regional governments. For example, both PUK and KDP have been instrumental in the process albeit constant friction from the Baghdad government. Both of these factions have formed strong militia groups which amount to tens of thousands.10 Their main role is to provide the much needed security in the vast Kurdistan region where the majority of Kurdish people are located.

The rejection by the central government of the oil and gas exploitation proposed by the Kurds made the latter to stay put and ignore the KRG constitution voting process which was to take place in July 2009.11 However, a temporary agreement to share the oil resources from Kirkuk and the Kurdistan region was reached between the two warring parties in May 2009. According to this agreement, 17 per cent of the oil proceeds going to the Kurdistan regional government while the remainder secured by the central government. Nonetheless, the Kurds have persisted that Article 140 should be put into action.

The provision of this article in the constitution highlighted the possibility of integrating the Kirkuk region in to the wider Kurdistan Regional Government. An opinion poll was to be held to this effect. Nonetheless, the Kurdish people have been launching aggressive attacks on the Arabs who still live in Kirkuk so that they can leave. Both the Sunni and Shiite Arabs found their way to Kirkuk during the era of Saddam Hussein. The affirmative action called arabization program led top the massive relocation of the Arab population in Tamin (Kirkuk) in a bid to displace the Kurd population from Kirkuk.


Barton, F & Crocker, B (2004) Progress or Peril? Measuring Iraq’s Reconstruction. September 2004. The Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project, Washington, DC: CSIS.

Brahimi, L (2004a). The Political Transition in Iraq: Report of the Fact-Finding Mission, Report annexed to S/2004/140 Letter from the UN Secretary General to the Security Council.

Caraley, D, J (2004) (ed.). American Hegemony: Preventive war, Iraq and Imposing Democracy US: The Academy of Political Science.

Dodge, T (2003). Inventing Iraq: The failure of Nation Building and a History Denied U.S.: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.

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Polk, W, R, Lund, J (2006). Understanding Iraq: a Whistlestop tour from ancient Babylon to occupied Baghdad Cornwall: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.

Pollack, KM (2004). After Saddam: assessing the reconstruction of Iraq, Analysis Paper 1 (Washington, DC: Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution).

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Smith, D (2006). The State of the Middle East: An Atlas of Conflict and Resolution Hong Kong: Earthscan.

Tripp, C (2000). A History of Iraq, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  1. Brahimi (2004a)p. 46.
  2. Caraley, (2004) p 149.
  3. Smith, (2006) p.86.
  4. Tripp, C(2000) p280.
  5. Dodge, T (2003) p 157.
  6. Barton & Crocker (2004)p.32.
  7. Galbraith, (2006)p.6.
  8. Pollack (2004)p.48.
  9. Polk, Lund (2006) p.153.
  10. Seddon, (2004) p127.
  11. Polk &Lund (2006) p 197.
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