Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, has called on the regional parliament to “quickly take the administrative steps to raise the administrative status of Halabja and turn it into a province without waiting for action from the Iraqi government in Baghdad.”
The Kurdistan parliament passed a motion in June 2013 calling for Halabja to become the autonomous region’s newest province, but under Iraqi law the final decision rests with the central government in Baghdad.
A Council of Ministers meeting in Baghdad in January this year confirmed that Halabja would be made a province, but the motion also has to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. No progress has been made on securing parliamentary approval, largely owing to disputes over the creation of additional provinces in disputed areas.
On Thursday, the official website of the Iraqi Kurdistan government published a statement in which it confirmed that in consultation with legal advisors, the regional president “has confirmed that the question of making Halabja a province rests with the administrative authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan.”
Barzani has reportedly asked the authorities in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, to expedite the process to make Halabja a province, independent of any action from Baghdad.
In recent weeks, Halabja has seen demonstrations that gave the regional government until March 16, the 26th anniversary of a brutal chemical weapons attack on Kurds in the city by Saddam Hussein’s forces, to make Halabja the region’s fourth province.
Nouri Hammah Ali, a deputy in the regional parliament for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), said: “this statement from Barzani shows that he is serious about solving the problems that Baghdad prolongs with its procrastination, time wasting and unwillingness to keep the promises it has made the region on this issue.”
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ali said he felt that the attempts to delay or scupper the decision, “either from the Iraqi government and by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki personally, come amid a campaign he has begun recently to spread dissent among the people of Halabja against the regional government, and the KDP in particular.”
Ali stressed that the actions of Baghdad “are what pushed the president to direct the regional government to raise the administrative status of Halabja without consulting Baghdad.”
Salar Mahmoud, a deputy for the Kurdistan National Party, said: “The question of making Halabja a province is not just a matter for the regional government—it is a reaction against Baghdad. Every unilateral decision gives the government the opportunity to be stricter still.”
On March 16, 1988, Halabja witnessed a chemical attack by Saddam Hussein’s forces that killed more than 5,000 people and injured many thousands more. Barazani has said on numerous occasions both to crowds and in statements that Halabja is the “lucky key” of the Kurdish people, as it opened the world’s eyes to the tragedies suffered by the Kurds.