Session 1: The future of the disputed territories
Transcription of Mohammed Ihsan (Visiting Fellow, King’s College)
Thank you. I am really pleased to join the gathering, such wonderful gathering of friends, colleagues and students. We have discussed this issue on many occasions and it is great to be back together to talk about the disputed territories. By the way, I am still minster in the government. In a couple of days I will though say goodbye to the KRG.
I think before start talking about my experience about the disputed areas, while I was working there, I think I have to share with you a few figures. The size of Iraq today is 437509 Km2. Size of KRG today is 5328 Km2,, while the size of the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil is 45050 Km2. This means that 48% of KRG’s land is still disputed between Baghdad and Erbil. Numbers and size of land mean a lot for dictators, and the policy of “Arabization” was to expand this empire, which existed in their minds.
But for us as Kurds and Turkmen, it was a story of pain and sorrow, demography, change and deportation; genocide in general. We agreed after 2003 that we should make a roadmap to sort out this issue. Through TAL (Transitional Administrative Law), we have two main articles identifying the roadmap to sort out the future of 45050 KM2 between Baghdad and Erbil, despite the genocide and all the deportations and other issues. This means that we agreed to sort out a political issue by legal means. I think, this happens for the first time in the Middle East. In the Middle East, they usually sort political issues either by gun or by neglecting each other. I hope, through MERI and such organizations, we can continue with dialogue and reconciliation, not just with others, but also in Kurdistan among ourselves in similar gatherings.
We agreed with Baghdad to follow a roadmap to go ahead. What has been done so far is that in 2005, Dr Ayad Allawi’s government established a committee to normalise Kirkuk, and only Kirkuk. This means that, the committee started at its birth as a failure, with absolutely no progress. This is why nothing was achieved after one year. No money was allocated; no one managed to lead that committee.
During Maliki’s time in 2006, another committee was established to implement ‘Article 140’ and the roadmap, to sort out the fate of the 45050 Km2. We worked hard in that committee. Our job was to encourage people who have been deported to return to their homes and to encourage the new settlers to go back. In addition to that, we worked on bringing back those who were fired from their jobs, and on tackling the issue of the administrative border between these territories. We then prepared a voting list, determining who has the right to participate in the referendum and in which areas the referendum should take place.
I think, as a committee, we managed and worked so hard to do all of these, but at the same time, we were facing millions of troubles from the Iraqi government itself. They were doing their best to undermine the situation and move on. I think most of our colleagues who are here today are aware of that. We were moving one step forward and two steps back. In 2006, Maliki issued ‘Article 22’, setting three specific dates. Article 22 stipulates that normalisation in the disputed territories should be completed by 31st March 2007, census completed by July 2007, and a referendum to conducted by 15th November 2007. Nothing has been achieved or implemented, despite all of what we did.
Then, in the next government, if you look at the programme of 2010, the second term of Maliki, he just bypassed the implementation. After 8 years of Maliki, we find out that very little has been achieved, despite the hard work and the amount of money spent. I think, more than a billion USD was spent on the implementation of Article 140. In 2011, they changed the plan totally. Instead of concentrating on the disputed territories, they enlarged the concept of those areas, in order to cover all Iraq except Kurdistan. We got to the level that roughly more than 50% of the committee’s budget was spent on Basrah, Nasriya, Amara and Diwanya, but not Kurdistan. I have figures and numbers that I can share with you. Then, we were working to put pieces together and we were telling them, if you don’t solve the issue there will be another theatre or stage where tension might arise again between Baghdad and Erbil, and at the end, it will end up as a pond for all the dirty insects.
Based on knowledge and experience, one of the reasons behind the current war with ISIS is not implementing Article 140, because that was the key to get trust from the other parties within the country, mainly Kurds, to be a real partner and to work together towards the end of such terrorists in Iraq. If you look at the numbers, the amount spent so far on security from 2005 until 2013 is 177 billion USD for security organizations, including ministries of defence and interior. These figures are from Waqi Aliraqia and not from myself. Imagine a country spending 177 billion USD and yet not being able to manage to keep the security for at least 10% of the land, while having millions of soldiers. This means that, there is something wrong.
I think even if we manage today to make an end to ISIS by military force, the disputed territories need to be solved; otherwise different forces similar to ISIS will emerge. Lack of clear vision for the future and wrong implementation of policies, these areas turned to be a pond and unsecured pockets. Neither KRG nor Iraq will manage to keep the security of this area. This is why I think it is time for the current government in Baghdad to think seriously about how to implement the Article. Not implementing the Article, it will remain the mother of all other issues. This Article influences the links between Baghdad and KRG and the security between KRG and Baghdad. I hope we can learn from our mistakes. I hope the mistake of the former regime – I say former regime because in Iraq we are getting used to former regimes – and I think we have to call Maliki a former regime, but go back to Saddam Hussein’s times and differentiate, get the lessons and learn from what was done in the past eight years. Thank you.