I do not believe that the Iraqi Kurds are aware of their isolation in terms of wanting Kirkuk to be tied to the north of the country. But what is sure is that in addition to Iraqi nationalists of varying ethnic and religious roots, there are also many countries which are watching developments on this subject closely.
What I hear from Iraqis, primarily Sunni Iraqis of course, is this: "If Kirkuk is linked soley with Kurdistan, there will big problems that emerge. Turkey's stance on this matter is helping us in talks with the Kurds on this front."
Of course, no one is expecting Turkey to get involved with a military intervention. Nor does Ankara even want this.
But still, there is a great deal of importance and effort attached to maintaining Iraqi soil unity, and to making sure that Kirkuk does not become a "done deal." There are some who are saying that Turkey's stance currently on the matter is strengthening their hand in talks with the northern Iraqi leadership. Around Iraq, there are voices rising from both Arab countries and from Israel saying "let's avoid taking steps which could bring about instability in Kirkuk, and let's protect the unity of Iraqi soil." And so, it is with this atmosphere as a backdrop that I spoke with Saffin Dizai, a man responsible for the Kurdistan Democratic Party's foreign affairs. * * * Saffin Dizai, after years of representing Turkey within the Kurdistan Democratic Party, understands Ankara's Kirkuk apprehensions well. Touching on the subject of dialogue between leaders in Ankara and northern Iraq, Dizai says "We need to speak with eachother, to be able to lay serious problems on the table and search for solutions."
I asked him at the start of our conversation whether he though the upcoming referendum in Kirkuk could be postponed.
"There is a lot of time until that referendum. But this is a subject which is dealt with in our constitution. The constitution will be followed. Kirkuk is, in terms of its geography and its history, in the Kurdish region. We want this to come to light clearly. We want to prove that Kirkuk lies in the Kurdish region. We are not saying that Kirkuk is a Kurdish city though. Following the referendum, Turkmenis and Arabs will continue living in the region."
I asked Dizai next about the demographic changes in Kirkuk, saying "Didn't you force Turkmeni and Arabs to leave, and bring Kurds in in their places? Haven't there been enormous demographic changes made to Kirkuk?" He said "There has been a lot of exaggeration on this subject. What is happening is that the Kurds who were forced to leave the region between 1991-2003 are returning. Their families are bigger now. They have come back in greater numbers."
* * * Next I asked "Do you not see that insistance on Kirkuk could lead the way to great instability in the region? There are many who are saying that Kirkuk could become a second Jerusalem for the region. And such instability would threaten the entire region, not just the immediate one. Do you believe that Turkey's tension on this subject arises from feelings of hostility its holds for Kurds? Doesn't this threat of instability worry you?"
"We attach great importance to Turkey. Turkey is a very important force in our region. We want to develop good relations with Turkey, and we think it would be to our interest to do so. And I hope that it would also be in the best interest of Turkey. There are today more than 300 Turkish companies working in northern Iraq. The Turks are playing a crucial role in our development. We find these relations very valuable."