Thursday, April 23, 2009

U.N. Report Lays Out Options for an Oil-Rich Iraqi Region

By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS BAGHDAD — A long-awaited United Nations report that was presented Wednesday to senior Iraqi officials proposes several options for Kirkuk Province, including making it an autonomous region as a way to defuse simmering tensions between Kurds and Arabs over its oil wealth. The United States military has long been concerned that the dispute over control of Kirkuk and its resources could plunge Iraq into a new round of violence, drawing neighboring Turkey and Iran into the conflict as well. The United Nations did not release the complete 500-page document, providing instead only general details about the report. Among them were four proposed options for Kirkuk, each of which would require political accommodation among the groups competing for power: Kurds, Turkmens and Sunni and Shiite Arabs. Each of the proposals envisions keeping the province as a single entity, and each calls for Kirkuk residents to make the final decision as part of a referendum. The report, which has been delayed since last year, was presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and other officials. Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, and other Kurds have said that Kirkuk, which is believed to have a Kurdish majority, should be incorporated into Kurdistan, which has operated as an autonomous region since 1991. A member of the Iraqi Parliament who read the report said that one of the four proposed options was the creation of an independent or autonomous region run by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. The budget of the region would be financed with a percentage of Kirkuk’s oil revenues, according to the United Nations plan. A second option, according to the member of Parliament, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the report publicly, was for Kirkuk to become a special region, to be jointly administered by the regional and central governments. Under this proposal, a referendum would be held within five years to determine whether residents wanted Kirkuk to become part of the Kurdistan region or to be incorporated into the central state. Kirkuk was excluded from Iraq’s provincial elections in January to avoid inflaming tensions. In other developments on Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed five people and wounded 13 others when he attacked a crowd of worshipers leaving a mosque in Salahuddin Province, north of Baghdad. Abu Yassir, who witnessed the attack, said he had seen a boy about 12 years old running toward the mosque at the end of evening prayers. “People did not recognize him, and they got suspicious so they called out, ‘Suicider!’ to try to warn the mosque’s security guards,” he said. But the boy was able to slip inside and detonated his explosives.

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