February 28, 2010
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Tensions between Iraq's
Kurds and Arabs may one day lead to armed conflict
but, after an election in March, Arab parties will
be vying with each other to court Kurdish allies
expected to emerge as powerful kingmakers.
Brutally suppressed under dictator Saddam Hussein,
Kurds became one of the nation's most cohesive
political forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion,
strengthened by U.S. support and by having made
their own peace after a civil war during the 1990s.
Since the last national vote in 2005 and the years
of sectarian carnage that followed, the central
government in Baghdad has strengthened its hand,
violence has fallen and political coalitions have
become more cross-sectarian.
Yet none of Iraq's
major Shi'ite or Sunni Arab parties is expected to
win enough parliamentary seats on March 7 to be able
to form a government on its own, making Kurdish
support possibly the key for any coalition wanting
to take power.
"No one can be a prime minister without the backing
of the Kurds, because it will be either the Sunni
Arabs or the Shi'ite Arabs, and they don't support
each other, so we will be the critical factor in
this balance," said Shoresh Haji of the Kurdish
opposition party Change.
The semi-autonomous Kurds are likely to exact a high
price for their support, analysts say, ranging from
a solution over the city of Kirkuk, which they claim
as their ancestral home,www.ekurd.netto
acceptance of oil contracts signed independently
with oil firms.
"The Kurds have serious demands which the Arab
parties will have a hard time satisfying," said
Joost Hiltermann, deputy Middle East director at the
International Crisis Group (ICG).
"I think it will take some very hard bargaining, but
I don't think the Arab parties are ready to let the
Kurds go into opposition ... that is too dangerous."
Spats between Arabs and Kurds over land, resources
and power are seen as one the most fundamental
threats to Iraq's future stability as it tries to
shake off years of stagnation and boost exports from
its economic crown jewel, the oil sector.
The more ethnically homogenous Kurdistan has seen
little of the bloodshed that has plagued the rest of
Iraq since Saddam was ousted, although Kurds and
Shi'ites bore the brunt of Saddam's wrath during his
decades in power.
What the region has seen, however, is rising
tensions with Baghdad as Shi'ite Arab Prime Minister
Nuri al-Maliki sought to extend the central
government's authority across the country.
While confrontations so far have been confined to
angry rhetoric, Iraqi troops have come close to
blows with Kurdish peshmerga fighters in several
"The performance of the Iraqi government ... like
disrespect for the constitution and for agreements
between both sides, are all indications that Baghdad
is moving back toward an individualist or one-party
dictatorship," Kurdistan Deputy Prime Minister Azad
Barwari said in Kurdistan's capital, Arbil.
"If the situation goes like it is now, Iraq will go
to an unknown fate."
Some political analysts say the Kurds may be more
realistic in their demands from Arab parties, and
the Kurdish bloc would most likely back Maliki's
main challenger for the Shi'ite vote, the Supreme
Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI).
Yet the Kurdish vote will not be as united as it has
been in the past, potentially weakening their
A coalition between the two main Kurdish parties
will face an internal challenge from the Change, or
Goran, party that won nearly a quarter of seats in a
regional vote last year.
IHS Global Insight Middle East analyst Gala Riani
said that Kurds' resolve to come together on issues
affecting their enclave should not be discounted.
"Although they are running on different lists, when
it comes to issues that have to do with the federal
government, the Kurds have always managed to rally
together and display a sense of unity that perhaps
internally they don't really have," she said.
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