Last weekend’s elections in Iraq were “hailed by both Iraqis and the international community as a success and a sign of the country’s growing stability” (McLain). But will that stability reach (and sustain itself) in the three provinces that bridge the Kurdish-Arab ethnic lines? These provinces are Nineveh, Ta’mim (formerly Kirkuk province), and Diyala. Kirkuk did not participate in the recent elections.
The tensions along the Kurdish-Arab line mirror a much larger, and potentially more destabilizing division. That of the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
At the forefront of the debate is Kiruk and oil. There is no clear consensus on who controls the KRG’s natural resources. The constitution is incredibly vague on this issue and it has led to ever-hardening battles over the oil reserves. The province of Kirkuk (Ta’mim) sits on 13% of Iraq’s oil.
But oil is not the only friction there. Kurds (and other groups) were ethnically cleansed from the province under Saddam’s Arabisation policies. Arabs from the south were relocated to the area. Subsequently, Kirkuk has become a de facto symbol of oppression against the Kurds. It is a city that has strong emotional attachment to Kurdish identity in the region and Kurds will continue the fight to incorporate it into the KRG.
However, Prime Minister al-Maliki and his centralisation policies have been strengthened by the elections and he may take that as a mandate to reign in local governments. At the same time, the Kurds see wins in Kurdish districts (smaller units of the provinces) as proof of voters’ desire to become part of the KRG.
But the complications are not just domestic. Turkey has warned that it would not tolerate a Kirkuk governed by the KRG. It views a Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk as a threat to its national security.
The KRG has scheduled provincial elections for 19 May. No date has yet been set for Kirkuk.
What Iraq’s elections will mean for the crucial oil sector, The Daily Star, 06 February 2009,
Carpenter, S. Surprises from Iraq’s Provincial Elections, Policy Watch #1472, The Washington Institute, 06 February 2009, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC05.php?CID=3008
McLain, S. You have to solve Kirkuk, The National, 07 February 2009, http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090207/FOREIGN/47173813/1011/NEWS