Department of Humanitarian Affairs

[internal memorandum]
April 1992


          Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the area which is now Iraq was under British mandate until 1932 when it became an independent state with its present, but potentially contested, borders. The issue of the Iraq/Turkey border occupied the League of Nations Council for years.

          The attached League of Nations documents reflect Turkey's concerted efforts to obtain international recognition for its legal claims to the Mosul Vilayet, northern (Kurdish) Iraq, which the League of Nations Council conditionally attached to Iraq in 1926. The principal document in the annexed collection is Iraq's Declaration of 30 May 1932. The conditional attachment and the declaration illustrate the meticulous efforts made by the League to protect the inhabitants of the contested area in religious, language and property matters. These inhabitants were mostly of non-Arabic origin, Assyrians, Kurds, Turkomans, etc. The 1932 Declaration appears to have fixed the limits of Iraqi sovereignty in that the detailed minority rights thus prescribed [of particular interest to Mr. M. van der Stoel, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights] take precedence over subsequent Iraq "laws, regulations or official actions" (art.1) and are even "placed under the guarantee of the League of Nations." (art.10)  Moreover, "all rights of whatever nature acquired before the termination of the mandatory regime by individuals, associations or juridical persons shall be respected." (art.14)

          In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations while it was still a member of the League of Nations, i.e., without altering the "obligations of international concern" (art.10) which Iraq incurred as a condition of its independence. The articles mentioned above, some of which have a direct bearing on the question of oil ownership, could not have been unilaterally abrogated by Iraq and consequently, remain fully in force.

          Since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Iraq has been repeatedly condemned for grave breaches of international norms. Yet the Security Council has throughout affirmed the commitment of all Member States to the "independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq." (Resolutions 686 and 688). Given the implications of the League of Nations documents, Iraq's "sovereignty and territorial integrity" under international law are conditioned; use of these terms in official UN documents does not convey rights Iraq has not acquired in due course.

         With regard to the oil ownership question, these documents provide a prima facie ownership case in favor of some Turkish citizens and Kurdish tribes in whose ancestral lands the largest oil field, in Kirkuk, is situated. Accordingly, the seizure protection wording of Resolution 712, paragraph 5, may not stand in a tribunal. It is thus advisable to execute Resolutions 706 and 712 either exclusively on the basis of oil pumped from uncontested Iraqi fields not in the Mosul Vilayet area or on the basis of corresponding agreements with the Turkish Government and the involved Kurdish tribes.

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