PUK–KDP Conflict: Future Kurdish Status in Kirkuk

Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Editor in Chief, Kurdistan Conf‌l ict and Crisis Research Center (KCCRC), Sulaimaniya;
Lecturer, University of Sulaimani, College of Politics/Department of Politics and
International Relations (DPIR), Sulaimaniya.
Corresponding author:
Farhad Hassan Abdullah, Lecturer, University of Sulaimani, College of Politics/
Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR), the Kurdistan Region of
Iraq, Sulaimaniya.
E-mail: farhad.abdul@univsul.edu.iq
PUK–KDP Conflict:
Future Kurdish Status
in Kirkuk
Farhad Hassan Abdullah1
After the September 25 referendum, the political and military develop-
ments in the disputed territories resulted in significant threats toward
Iraqi Kurdistan and also deepened the internal rivalry between the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party
(KDP). The Kurdish lost control of Kirkuk, which was the strongest
Kurdish-held disputed territory in Iraq. Subsequently, on October 16,
the Iraqi military attacked the city, and the Kurdish forces fled, unable
to defend it. This article discusses the various disputes between the
PUK and KDP vis-à-vis Kirkuk. It will also identify possible scenarios
for the future role of the Kurds in Kirkuk and the wider implications
of the city being ruled by an acting governor representing the Kurds.
This article concludes that electing a new governor and returning
the Kurdish parties in the Brotherhood List to the Council of Kirkuk
is the best scenario.
Kurds, PUK, KDP, Kirkuk, conflict, referendum
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
22(2) 107–126
2018 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0973598418770948
108 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 22(2)
The Kurdish referendum on independence resulted in over 92 percent of
participants voting in favor of Kurdistan’s independence. This resulted in
the immediate threat of a breakaway region, and on September 27, the
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi saw the need to reassert sovereignty
over the disputed territories, including Kirkuk, based on the constitution
stating that security management in disputed areas is the remit of the
federal government. Baghdad moved swiftly to reassert control over the
contested areas its troops abandoned in the face of the Islamic State of Iraq
and Syria (ISIS) onslaught in July 2014—areas which the Kurds had
subsequently controlled. The Iraqi government is expected to be in control
of the disputed territories previously controlled by the Kurds in 2014.
The pre-ISIS territorial status quo is being restored in this area, as it is
everywhere else. The operation of Kirkuk, which is officially known as an
‘operation of the imposition of security in disputed territories’, is an
operation launched by the Iraqi forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces
(PMF) to regain control of the disputed territory and return the pre-2003
borders. However, the governor of Kirkuk refused to allow any forces entry.
To support that decision the deputy of the former president of the Kurdistan
region of Iraq (KRG) deployed tens of thousands of Peshmerga forces
in the city to counter the potential threats from Iraqi forces1 but 3 days
later, the Iraqi forces announced its control of the Kirkuk military airport,
K1, which is the largest military base in the province, and of a number of
oil fields to the north. However, the leadership of the Peshmerga forces
accused a faction of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of treason by
assisting the Iraqi army in the Kirkuk operation. The PUK, conversely,
accused the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)’s insistence and Massoud
Barzani’s intransigence of holding a referendum that prompted Baghdad
to act. After these occurrences, the Kurds no longer have any administrative
or military powers in Kirkuk. This article will discuss the political disputes
between PUK and KDP and its implications for the Kurd’s role in Kirkuk,
and future scenarios of the Kirkuk crisis.
PUK–KDP Conflict
The Iraqi Kurds were mostly defeated by their own political division—
a recurring theme in the history of that troubled region. The relationship
1 Iraq Today, ‘Barzani Appoints Kosrat Rasoul as Supreme Leader of Peshmerga’, accessed
October 15, 2017, http://iraqtoday.com/ar/news/15266/

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