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IRAQ: U.N. looks to solve Kirkuk problem

August 20, 2008 |  3:45 pm

The United Nations is pressing ahead with its mission to find a solution for Iraq's troubled northern region, where Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen are in a fight for land and power. Nothing is more prized than the mixed-city of Kirkuk and its province, which sits atop oil reserves. 

The head of the UN mission in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, said the United Nations aimed to present its ideas on how to settle the competition for Kirkuk in September or October.  "We are pushing for a grand deal, looking at the whole area," de Mistura said Tuesday. "Our aim is to draw up options by October, which if all Iraqi parties work consistently on those, could provide a peaceful political solution, which eventually may be confirmed or sanctioned through a confirmatory referendum." 

In Iraq's world of intractable politics it is an open question whether the various sides will seize upon the United Nations' ideas. Last December, as the deadline passed for an Iraqi referendum on Kirkuk's fate, the Iraqi government accepted the United Nations proposal to present possible solutions regarding the volatile city. 

All sides have refused to budge on Kirkuk. Arabs and Turkmen are violently opposed to a referendum in Kirkuk. They believe the Kurds have brought strangers down to live in the city in order to rig such a vote.

The United Nations assembled a team of 15 advisors to survey the disputed areas in northern Iraq and to propose compromises that could break the deadlock over the referendum. The team also is surveying contested lands in Nineveh, Salahaddin and Diyala provinces.

The tensions are a legacy of the late dictator Saddam Hussein's policy of expelling Kurds and settling Arabs in strategic areas. The United Nations produced its first assessment in June on disputed lands, which covered the areas of Mahmour, Akre and Hamdaniya in Nineveh province, as well as Mandeli in Diyala. The study was criticized by the Kurds. However, it remains to be seen whether Iraqi politicians will be more receptive to the United Nations' suggestions in the future.

-- Ned Parker in Baghdad