The Kirkuk Question

When the Kurds drove Saddam's army out of their homeland in the early nineties, they didn't quite make it as far as Kirkuk, the southernmost city that's predominantly Kurdish. Which for the Kurds was a shame.kirkuk_oil.jpgKirkuk sits atop 25% of Iraq's oil and pumps out a million barrels a day. So valuable is Kirkuk that Saddam launched a program in the 1980s called Enfal to shift the city's demographics in favor of the regime by forcibly removing the city's Kurds and paying Arabs to settle in their places.Now, with Kirkuk just outside the de facto border of Kurdistan, and with the Kurdish region richer and more powerful than the rest of the country, the Kurdistan Regional Government and its lackeys in Baghdad are plotting to redraw Kurdistan's unofficial but very real borders to incorporate Kirkuk.It's a two-pronged campaign. One effort encourages Kurds to move back to Kirkuk and file suit to reclaim their old properties from Arabs. The other, recently realized, revolves around Article 136 of the new Iraqi constitution. That article, which was pushed hard by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, requires a referendum in Kirkuk in 2007 asking residents if they want to be part of autonomous Kurdistan.If the KRG can persuade enough Kurds to move back to the city (which is currently only 40% Kurdish), then the referendum should pass in favor of joining Kurdistan, and Kirkuk's million barrels a day will fund Kurdish schools, roads and security forces instead of Arab schools, roads and security forces.KRG assembly speaker Adnan Mufti told me the other day that the Kirkuk question is his number one concern. What he didn't say is that it's just step one in the KRG's long-term plan to officially break away from Iraq, a move that Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria anticipate and that the rest of the world dreads, as it could mean war on many fronts.

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