12 Parties Sign Letter of Understanding: Seek to Block Kurds from Taking Kirkuk

Several Sunni, Shiite and secular political parties have come together in a new pact aimed at challenging the dominant coalition of the Kurdistan Alliance and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). They appear to aim at blocking the formation of a Shiite regional confederacy in the South. They also want to stop oil-rich Kirkuk Province from going to the Kurdistan Regional Authority. In March, the 18 month delay in the implementation of the Shiite region (comprising 8 provinces) will end.

The pan-Arab London daily al-Hayat is more breathless about the new pact than the Western wire services. It estimates that 12 parliamentary blocs have signed on to the memorandum of agreement, including a Turkmen party. They said that the central government should continue to enjoy its prerogatives with regard to administering national resources and expressed “severe anxiety” about attempts to conclude contracts by provinces without coordinating with the federal government. (This point is a slam at the Kurdistan Regional Authority, which is doing oil contracts without reference to the Oil Ministry in Baghdad).

The agreement also calls for the issue of Kirkuk Province to be settled by negotiation rather than by referendum. The Kurdistan Regional Authority wants to annex Kirkuk, but most of the Turkmen and Arabs there don’t want that to happen. The Kurds have flooded Kurds into the province, so that they would win a referendum if it were held, but the other Iraqis are dragging their feet, so that the issue has been postponed until this summer and may be postponed further. The problem is that the referendum has the potential for sparking both a civil war and a regional war with Turkey.

The parties signing the agreement also want the al-Maliki government to set a timetable for withdrawal of US troops.

The signatories include:

The Sadr Movement (30 seats)
The Iraqi List of Iyad Allawi (25 seats)
Dawa Party – Iraqi Organization (15 seats)
National Dialogue Front of Salih Mutlak (11 seats)
National Dialogue Council (1/3 of the Tawafuq party)
The Turkmen Front
The Yezidi Progressive Movement

It is not expected that the signatories will form a new political bloc to challenge PM Nuri al-Maliki. (And a good thing, too, since you can’t imagine them agreeing on anything beyond the narrow points they have assented to for very long).

The Iraqi List of Allawi says that it is in negotiations with PM Nuri al-Maliki to rejoin his cabinet, from which they withdrew last fall. How it is that they are rejoining his government, which has not, to say the least, worked very hard on these three points, is not clear.

The head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Iraqi parliament, Humam Hamudi, said that next week a meeting for national reconciliation would be held in Beirut, to be attended by 22 Iraqi politicians.

It is not clear if the rumored Cairo reconciliation meeting will take place this week or not.

LAT says that the US military is pressuring al-Maliki to employ members of the Awakening Councils, but that it hasn’t yet employed that many of them because the Shiite government is deeply suspicious of Sunni former insurgents.