Shiites, Sunnis join to pressure Kurds over oil-rich Kirkuk

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD -- Several Shiite and Sunni political factions united yesterday to pressure the Kurds over control of oil and the future of the city of Kirkuk, which Kurdistan wishes to annex to its self-ruling region in the north.

The budding front, which include one-time enemies such as Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular faction, says the country should have a strong central government.

In contrast, the Kurds and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a major Shiite party, have championed a federal system that would give a limited role for the national government and greater powers to the regions.

Officials from the factions that signed yesterday's statement said they wanted to find a political solution to the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which Kurds wish to annex by referendum. The Iraqi Constitution had called for a referendum to be held by the end of last year, but that deadline passed, and the factions now question whether it is still required.

The groups also protested any contracts signed by provinces or regions with foreign companies to develop oil fields. The Kurdistan regional government has signed such contracts in the past year, ignoring protests from Baghdad.

The factions indicated that the communique did not represent the formation of a new political bloc but did commit them to promoting a strong role for Iraq's national government.

Usama Najafi, a lawmaker with Allawi's party, said at least 120 lawmakers in the 275-member parliament had endorsed the statement.

The communique was signed by representatives of nearly a dozen blocs, including the Turkmen, Yazidi and Christian minorities. The Shiite Dawa-Iraq party and supporters of former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari signed the statement as well.

The communique also revealed divisions in the 44-seat Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni bloc, between parties that support and oppose Kurdistan's regional ambitions.

"We are thinking that Kurdish demands have grown larger and larger gradually. ... Some of those demands are impossible to achieve, and this is a clarification for the Kurds that their demands are too large and irrational. They have to recognize their true size in the political process," said Sheik Walid Kraimawi, a member of the al-Sadr movement's political committee.

In a twist, the communique brings together both Allawi's faction and the Sadrists in demanding a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq.

When prime minister in 2004, Allawi approved U.S. troops to fight al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

"A timetable must be defined for the foreign forces to withdraw so that full independence and sovereignty would be achieved," said Najafi, the member of Allawi's group.

Ned Parker writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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