Another brain-dump that’s mainly for my own benefit. So once again it’s going behind a cut.
Pundits have been touting Kirkuk as a flashpoint since long before the 2003 invasion. It’s got everything: ethnically-mixed, important within the oil industry, the victim of one of Saddam’s attempts at social engineerin, and with the potential to draw Turkey and Iran into a regional conflict if things go badly.
But despite a substantial amount of ongoing violence, Kirkuk hasn’t yet exploded into full-scale warfare. It’s even possible to hope that it will survive the next decade or so without being torn apart, something which seemed truly unlikely just a few years ago. What happened?
The reasons for expecting nastiness in Kirkuk were pretty sound. The ethnic mix of the city involves Kurds, Turkomen, Arabs and eight Christian sects. This mix would not necessarily lead to conflict, were it not for Saddam Hussein’s policy of ‘Arabization’. In the early 1990s he attempted to consolidate his control of the region by forcing more than 100,000 Kurds out of Kirkuk, and replacing them with Arab migrants. These Kurds are now returning to what they think of as their city. They intend to remove the recent Arab immigrants, reversing the demographic trend.
If reclaiming your homeland isn’t enough, there’s also the financial incentive. Oil was first found in Kirkuk in 1927, and [proven reserves](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Petroleum_Company) are currently around 10 billion barrels. Although the main outlet, the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, has been reduced to semi-disuse by [frequent sabotage](http://www.iags.org/iraqpipelinewatch.htm), any group controlling Kirkuk’s oil will have great political power.
While these tensions have not yet brought Kirkuk to full-blown civil war, there has been a constant stream of killings, now taking place on an almost daily basis. In the past few days the city has seen [one person injured by a car bomb](http://www.kuna.net.kw/Home/Story.aspx?Language=en&DSNO=871076), a snper targetting policemen and civilians, the [killing of a police officer](http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20060527/wl_mideast_afp/iraqunrest) in one incident and [one policeman killed and four injured](http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/RAS733924.htm) in another, [four Iraqi soldiers killed](http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/RAS733924.htm), the [kidnapping of a Turkmen politician’s son](http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/KAM520371.htm),
and numerous other explosions and attacks.
What’s worse, any conflict in Kirkuk has the potential to degenerate into a regional war. Turkey has a historical interest in Kirkuk, which was part of that country until the First World War. Occasional nationalist demands to retake Kirkuk are of minor importance, but many Turks feel they should protect the Turkomen residents of Kirkuk, whom they think of as countrymen. More important to Turkey is the perceived threat from any strong Kurdistan with Kirkuk as its capital, which could potentially whip up anti-Turkish sentiment among the many Kurds living in Turkey. Some form of political solution is required to fend off these dangerous possibiliteis.
######Kirkuk in Iraqi politics
Potential political solutions do exist, but none are easy or uncontroversial.
The [Transitional Administrative Law](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Administration_for_the_State_of_Iraq_for_the_Transitional_Period) laid down a process for the future of Kirkuk in Article 58. This article seems to have been included in the final Iraqi constitution, although some of the versions of the constitution circulating on the Internet do not include it.
Article 58 requires the Government of Iraq to remedy Saddam’s changes to the demographics of Kirkuk by returning Kurds to their homes, offering Arab residents compensation in return for leaving teh city, and promoting employment opportunities within Kirkuk.
Whether or not this clause is included in Iraq’s constitution, it has not been fully implemented. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been [blamed](http://www.kurdmedia.com/articles.asp?id=11614) for this, but some Kurds also complain that current president Jalal Talabani has been avoiding the issue. Talabani, a Kurd, might be expected to take a strong line on Kirkuk, but doing so would court controversy and could potentially jeapordize his own position. Similarly the Kurdistani bloc in the Iraqi parliament has been criticized for being ‘[passive](http://www.kurdmedia.com/articles.asp?id=12420)’ about Kirkuk.
This is not a case of disagreements over what to do with Kirkuk – Kurdish politicians are all but unanimous in their desire to claim Kirkuk as part of the region of Kurdistan, and most would like to make it the regional capital. It is simply that the realpolitik at a national level makes it hard to force the issue.
At a regional level Kurdish voices are much more dominant, and so they have been able to stretch their political muscles. For example they have [pushed](http://www.epic-usa.org/Default.aspx?tabid=803) for the increased use of the Kurdish language in official contexts, to the chagrin of other politicians with no knowledge of Kurdish languages.
…and there I’ll leave it – incomplete and unsatisfying, but I want to go and buy food before the supermarket closes.