Bending the Third Rail
Because We Should, We Can, We Do
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Regular readers of this blog know that I've been warning about an upcoming battle in the, up to now, mostly peaceful Kurdistan. It looks like the battle for Kirkuk is on the horizon:
One predicted crisis in Iraq that hasn't materialized is an all-out war for control of Kirkuk -- the multi-ethnic, oil-rich city in northern Iraq that the Kurds call their Jerusalem. A major reason why the battle for Kirkuk hasn't yet happened is because U.S. and Iraqi officials have consistently deferred resolving the city's political status over the past four years. This year, however, that all changes.

The Iraqi constitution stipulates that by the end of 2007, a referendum will take place in Kirkuk to determine whether the city becomes part of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government or will continue to be administered from Baghdad. Since 2003, Kurds who had been displaced by Saddam Hussein's campaign of ethnic cleansing have been returning, a vast demographic shift within the approximately-700,000-person city that very likely will ensure that the Kurds prevail.
For background, remember that Saddam removed Kurds from Kirkuk and moved Arabs in. Since Saddam's removal, the Kurds have been moving back in droves and are now claiming it as theirs. But the Arabs are still there. And so is a whole lot of oil. The Kurds will settle for nothing less than control of the entire area:
Qubad Talabani doesn't necessarily disagree. Talabani, the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Washington representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told me that "the aftermath of the referendum may be messy, undoubtedly." But for Talabani, the issue is that, especially after the hanging of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, "we can't leave their racist handiwork intact." For a population that experienced a genocide a mere 20 years ago, making Kirkuk Kurdish again is first and foremost a matter of justice. As part of that, Talabani says, "we can't rectify a crime with another crime," which is why he and the Kurdish leadership support financially compensating Arabs who Saddam moved into Kirkuk as part of the "Arabization" campaign of the 1980s. But the Kurds have been similarly firm in their demand that those Arabs do indeed have to leave the city.
And the Arabs are equally firm that they're not leaving, no matter what the compensation. Irresitable force, meet immovable object.

And then of course are all the other complications implicit including opposition from Iraq Arabs, Turkey, and Iran. And unlike the Shiites and Sunni's, the Kurdish peshmergia (their milita) is very very well manned, well armed, well trained and ready to go.