February 1, 2005


Iraqi Kurds See Chance to Press for Statehood: Despite gains in Sunday's vote, those who want independence are less willing to settle. (Jeffrey Fleishman, February 1, 2005, LA Times)

Fearing that a bid for independence would draw the fury of neighboring Turkey and Iran, which have their own restive Kurdish populations, the main Kurdish political parties say they are committed to a unified Iraq. But many Kurds believe the chaos across the country creates a prime opportunity for them to claim the contested oil city of Kirkuk and break away. More than 1.7 million Kurds, or about 45% of their population, signed a petition for independence that was recently delivered to the United Nations.

The struggle is between pragmatism and a centuries-old dream. It suggests that the influence held by Kurdish politicians and U.S. allies such as Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani may be diminishing. Men like Agha, chief of the Hamawand tribe, are more willing to fight than to equivocate in the face of international pressure, especially when it comes to independence and the fate of Kirkuk.

"Talabani and Barzani must not give up Kirkuk," Agha said. "If they do, the people will split with them. We won't accept that. We want it to be solved peacefully. But if not, we've already lost a lot of lives over Kirkuk, and we're willing to lose a lot more. The oil of Kirkuk will sustain us, and we will not abandon it."

What unfolds in Kirkuk in coming days and weeks is as crucial to the stability of Iraq as the struggle between Shiite and Sunni Muslim Arabs to the south. The Kurds' goal has been to win a majority in Sunday's local elections in Kirkuk and claim the multiethnic city as part of their semiautonomous state in the north. The next step, men like Agha say, would be for the Kurds to demand independence.

The Kurds are hoping that the votes of about 70,000 of them, expelled from Kirkuk under Hussein and now seeking to return, will give them the edge in a local council now balanced among Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens and Assyrian Christians. They appear close to that aspiration: Arab voter turnout in Kirkuk was between 25% and 40%, and Kurdish participation was more than 70%, according to local political parties.

A surge in Kurdish power would anger Turkey, which is worried that Kurdish control of Kirkuk and its oil reserves would embolden and create instability among Turkey's disadvantaged 13 million Kurds. Such a scenario could create regional problems if Kurds in Iran and Syria also demanded more autonomy.

Instead we should be encouraging them to claim a healthy chunk of Northern Syria too.

As Iraqis Celebrate, the Kurds Hesitate (PETER W. GALBRAITH, February 1, 2005, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 1, 2005 7:38 AM

Maybe Jacques Chirac can help the Turks with the Kurdish issue. He's been such a good friend to them.

Posted by: Mike Morley at February 1, 2005 9:44 AM

As long as they wait until US troops are able to leave.

The one thing all the complaints about the US did was to make any Turkish intervention much harder to stomach internationally.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at February 1, 2005 10:47 AM

If the Kurds want out, the US will not be able to stop them. If the Turks get involved, the ruling party, which receives the bulk of Turkish Kurd votes, will collapse.

Posted by: Bart at February 1, 2005 10:49 AM

Include guarantied access to the port of Latakia with Northern Syria for their pipelines from Kirkuk.

Posted by: Genecis at February 1, 2005 12:31 PM