Kurds lay claim to land and oil,defy Baghdad

Iraq’s Kurdish leaders are pushing ahead with a new constitution for their semi-autonomous region...

Written by SAM DAGHER | Baghdad | Published:July 11, 2009 3:44 am

Iraq’s Kurdish leaders are pushing ahead with a new constitution for their semi-autonomous region,a step that has alarmed Iraqi and US officials who fear that the move poses a new threat to the country’s unity.

The new constitution approved by Kurdistan’s Parliament two weeks ago and scheduled for a referendum this year,underscores the level of mistrust between the region and the Government in Baghdad.

The proposed constitution enshrines Kurdish claims to territories and the oil and gas beneath them. But these claims are disputed by both the federal Government and ethnic groups on the ground,and were supposed to be resolved in talks begun quietly last month between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments,sponsored by the UN and backed by the US. Instead,the Kurdish Parliament pushed ahead and passed the constitution,partly as a message that it would resist pressure from the US and Iraqi governments to make concessions.

The Obama administration,which is gradually withdrawing US troops from Iraq,was surprised and troubled by the Kurdish move. Vice-President Joseph R Biden Jr,sent to Iraq on July 2,criticised it as “not helpful” to the administration’s goal of reconciling Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds.

Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki is already not on talking terms with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani. Iraqi political leaders have vociferously denounced the constitution as a step toward splintering Iraq.

“This lays the foundation for a separate state — it is not a constitution for a region,” said Osama al-Nujaifi,a Sunni Arab member of the national Parliament.

Kurdish officials defended their efforts to adopt a new constitution that defines the Kurdistan region as comprising their three provinces and also tries to add all of hotly contested and oil-rich Kirkuk province,as well as other disputed areas in Nineveh and Diyala provinces. Iraq’s federal Constitution allows the Kurds the right to their own constitution,referring any conflicts to Iraq’s highest court.

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