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Is northern Iraq seeking to draw the borders of its independence?

The northern Iraqi administration is digging trenches along the expansion of Rabia, west of Mosul in the Nineveh province, and reaching to the outskirts of Diyala province. This has raised questions about whether this is a preliminary measure pending its declaration of independence from Iraq.

There are serious concerns about such a step from the Arabs and Turkmen, who are worried that the trenches are in disputed areas. According to the regional government, though, they are there to block the threat to the Kurdish Peshmerga militias from Daesh.

According to Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, the areas of Sinjar and Hamdania, which are part of Mosul, Kirkuk and Tuz Khormato, all within the Saladin province, as well as some areas in the Diyali province, are considered to be “disputed areas, and require a referendum.” The attempts to determine the fate of these areas in 2007 ended in failure due to the disputes between the Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds regarding the manner in which the article should be implemented.

Nasreddin Saeed, the regional Minister for the Affairs of the Disputed Territories, told Anadolu news agency that there are two reasons for digging the trenches. The first is to create a line of defence for the Peshmerga forces against Daesh, and the second is because the central government in Baghdad is unable to protect these areas. They are, therefore, helping to “demarcate the disputed areas” in accordance with Article 140. Saeed denied allegations that the trenches are up to 1,000 kilometres in length, explaining that the Peshmerga does not control the entire disputed areas.

According to Ali Awni, however, the trenches should be viewed in the context of reinforcing regional security and preventing attacks from Daesh. The member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Leadership Council (headed by Masoud Barzani, president of the north Iraq province) added that the central government has exaggerated the matter. He denied that the trenches were being dug in preparation for independence.

The Turkmen’s concerns regarding the digging are described as facing the imposition of a fait accompli by the regional administration. Hassan Turan, MP for the Kirkuk province, demanded that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi should clarify what the regional government’s actions mean. Turan pointed out that the trenches split the Turkmen area in two after passing through the disputed areas. He stressed that they would stand against the regional project in the event that it takes on a political hue or is an attempt to demarcate borders.

A former Turkmen MP in the Iraqi parliament, Fawzi Akram, said, “There is an international project to divide Iraq into three mini-states; one for the Shia, one for the Sunnis and one for the Kurds.” He claimed that the project is planned to be executed in the Turkmen areas in the disputed areas, and noted that Irbil is seeking to control the oil revenues in the disputed areas, explaining that a French company is implementing the trench project.

The former MP also said that the Turkmen do not want to be the victims of regional conflicts with the central government, should they occur. He called on the UN Security Council and human rights organisations to stop the trench project. “The biggest loser in the political process in Iraq after 2003 were the Turkmen, as they lost their identity, their land and their history due to the conspiracies plotted against them,” said Akram. “Some parties even excluded and marginalised the Turkmen deliberately in the political, economic and military fields.”

Jassim Mohammed, the Turkmen MP in the Saladin province, said that the north Iraq government’s digging violates international law and the rights of the communities living in the relevant areas. He revealed that the trenches are 3 metres deep and 3 metres wide.

The government’s position, said Majid al-Gharawi, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s Security and Defence Committee, is that the north Iraq region is taking advantage of the current security situation in the country and the fight against Daesh to dig the trenches. He stressed that the Iraqi government will not open a new front with the Kurds over the trenches, as it is engaged with fighting Daesh at the moment. He suggested that the Kurds’ ultimate dream is “independence from Iraq”, and that “digging the trenches is a preliminary step for the implementation of this project.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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