Iraq's Kurds Lose Again
By Ben Katcher
February 20, 2009
It appears increasingly likely that the Kurdish
cause will be the latest American casualty in Iraq.
Kurdistan, an autonomous region in Iraq's northeast,
is governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Whether Kurdistan remains viable as an autonomous
region depends on whether it can incorporate the
oil-rich city of Kirkuk* as its capital. The Kurds
likely constitute a plurality of the city's
population, but the Arabs and Turkmen each claim the
city as their own.
According to Article 140 of the 2005 Constitution, a
referendum to decide Kirkuk's status was supposed to
be held by December 31, 2007. That deadline and
others have passed because the city's Arabs and
Turkmen have resisted, afraid that a vote would
result in a Kurdish victory.
Neither the central government in Baghdad nor the
KRG can compromise on Kirkuk. The KRG needs the
power base that Kirkuk provides to maintain its
autonomy and the government in Baghdad "could [not]
give Kirkuk to the Kurds and hope to survive, in
view of broad popular opposition in Arab Iraq,"
according to the International Crisis Group.
Over the past several months, Prime Minister al-Maliki
has sent "support councils" (read: government
militias) into Kurdish areas. The councils are
clearly meant to challenge the KRGs security forces,www.ekurd.netas
the peshmerga. Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan
Barzani has pleaded with the United States to
intervene to avoid what could become a civil war.
But despite its earlier support, the U.S. government
has made clear that it will not become involved.
Back in October, the military commander responsible
for Kirkuk and the Kurdish regions, Brig. Gen.
Raymond A. Thomas III, told the New York Times that
If the Kurdish and Iraqi government forces fight,
the American military will "step aside," rather than
"have United States servicemen get killed trying to
State Department Spokesman Robert Wood struck the
same note earlier this week. He said that Iraqi
citizens have to rely on the country's democratic
system to work out their differences,www.ekurd.netnot
the United States. "There are ways for people in
Iraq to bring the concerns that they have to the
levers of power. It's a democracy, and it's not
really up to the United States to reassure anyone."
Every occupying force chooses winners and losers on
its way out. And while questions remain as to who
the "winners" in Iraq will be, it is becoming clear
that the Kurds, the world's largest ethnic group
without a state to call their own, will again find
themselves among the losers.
author or news agency,
Kirkuk city is historically a Kurdish city and it
lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous
region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds
and minority of Arabs, Christians and
Turkmen. lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds
have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk,
which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem."
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to
the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city
and other disputed areas.
The article also calls for conducting a census to be
followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants
decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed
to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having
it as an independent province.
The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up
their homes to Arabs in the 1970s,www.ekurd.netto "Arabize"
the city and the region's oil industry.
The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was
conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his
program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed
178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and
10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the
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