ARBIL, Iraq (AFP) — Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan on Wednesday passed a new constitution in which it laid claim to the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk, a move likely to increase ethnic tension. The text, which also said that areas within Nineveh and Diyala provinces were part of Iraqi Kurdistan, was approved by 96 of the 111 MPs in the regional parliament in Arbil.
The document will be put before Kurdish voters for ratification on July 25, the same day that the region holds parliamentary and presidential elections. However, seven MPs walked out of Wednesday’s parliamentary session and declared the vote illegal because the legislature’s mandate had ended on June 4. The United Nations on April 22 handed over to the Baghdad government an eagerly awaited report on disputed areas of Iraq, including Kirkuk, in which it refused to contemplate the division of the deeply-contested province.
The Kurds have long striven to expand their northern territory beyond its current three provinces to other areas where the population was historically Kurdish, an ambition that has been bitterly contested by the Arabs who were settled there in large numbers under Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime. In order to dilute historic Kurdish majorities, a number of provincial boundaries were also redrawn so as to include Arab populations and minority groups, further stoking ethnic tensions.
The regional government’s new constitution refers to Kurdistan being “composed of Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, Chaldeans, Syriac, Assyrians, Armenians and others who are citizens of the Kurdistan region.”
“This is an important and historic day,” said the Kurdish parliament spokesman Adnan al-Mufti.
“For the first time the people of Kurdistan took steps to be the owner of their own constitution and to exercise their natural right.” He said the constitution “recognises and respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the people of Kurdistan in Iraq” and the “full religious rights of Christians and Yazidis”.
Kurdistan, whose capital is Arbil in northern Iraq, has its own flag which is raised beside the federal flag, and also has its own slogan, national anthem and national day.