Power Sharing in Kirkuk: The Need for Compromise

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On July 22, 2008, the Iraqi Parliament passed the provincial elections law with 127 of the 142 members present voting in favor. Kurdistan's members of the Baghdad Parliament did not attend the vote, having staged a walkout in protest over the inclusion of Article 24 of the law. This delayed elections in Kirkuk but mandated, in the meantime, power sharing among the governorate's three main ethnic groups (Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen) on the basis of parity.1 A day later, the law was vetoed by the Presidency Council, throwing into jeopardy the entire provincial elections process, a process viewed by many as a vital prerequisite for Iraq-wide political reconciliation.2 This incident offers a graphic illustration of potential for the Kirkuk issue to unravel the tenuous political consensus in Iraq It is no exaggeration to state that the future stability of Iraq revolves around finding an acceptable solution to the problem of Kirkuk. At its core, the dispute centers on whether or not Kirkuk city and governorate (province) should be incorporated into the Kurdistan Region and how it should be governed in the future. Any mutually acceptable compromise seems destined to require some form of power-sharing arrangement for Kirkuk, but the precise nature of this remains subject to debate. By most reliable measures, the Kurds comprise a majority in Kirkuk, and the extant literature on power sharing in ethnically divided societies, though voluminous, offers little in the way of guidance for dealing with majority-minority situations (the so-called 60-40 problem). Both major theoretical approaches-consociation and integration-struggle to provide a convincing explanation for why a majority group would voluntarily accept institutions that enhance the power of minority groups at its own expense. Bluntly put, as the majority group in Kirkuk, the Kurds have no compelling incentive to share power with other groups, and any proposed solution to the Kirkuk problem that fails to acknowledge this cannot plausibly succeed. Ironically, it is the very inability of integrationist and consociational approaches to deal with the 60-40 problem that yields the crucial insight necessary to resolving the Kirkuk issue.

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