Kurds Plan to Seize Kirkuk Militarily: Knight Ridder
Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder reports that the Kurds have seeded 10,000 peshmerga militiamen into the Iraqi army units in the north of Iraq, and plan to use them to seize control of oil-rich Kirkuk. (Actually, the Kurds already control Kirkuk militarily, since their forces conquered it from Saddam with US air support, and they dominate the city’s police force).
Lasseter says that the Kurdish paramilitary leaders believe Iraq is on the verge of disintegration into three states, and are preparing to take and hold Kirkuk when the civil war breaks out. (Kurdish leaders speaking this way will no doubt hurry along the process). The Sunni Arabs have no developed petroleum fields in their region, and most rich undeveloped fields appear to lie in the Shiite south. If a tripartite partition did take place, and if Kirkuk went to the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs would be reduced to dire poverty. For this reason, they are unlikely to go quietly.
The fix may well be in, on Kirkuk. Al-Zaman/ AFP[Ar.] report that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is also said to have shown a new flexibility toward the Kurds on the issue of control of oil-rich Kirkuk. When he spoke before the Kurdistan regional parliament, he promised to redraw the boundaries of Kurdistan. Kurds insist that Ta’mim or Kirkuk province had originally been Kurdish but was artificially detached from Kurdistan by Saddam. The Turkmen population of the province maintain that Kirkuk was traditionally Turkmen. The Arabs that Saddam settled up there (or who came as labor immigrants) are often being expelled. Thousands of Kurds are flooding into Kirkuk and clearly are attempting to make it overwhelmingly Kurdish. Kurdish representatives won 6 of the province’s 9 parliamentary seats on Dec. 15.
Al-Hakim said the issue of redrawing regional boundaries did not only concern the Kurds, suggesting that he has in mind some gerrymandering in the largely Shiite South, as well. Since a large proportion of Turkmen in Kirkuk are Shiites, if al-Hakim goes forward on this basis, he is showing a willingness to sacrifice their interests to those of the southern, Arab Shiites that are his power base. Many Shiite Turkmen, however, follow Muqtada al-Sadr, currently al-Hakim’s coalition partner, and it remains to see if al-Hakim can hold his coalition together if he pleases the Kurds as a quid pro quo for Shiite autonomy in the south, while allowing the Shiite Turkmen to be walked all over in the north.
The CSM suggests that tiny parties in Iraq could end up being important because they may be swing votes for the large Shiite fundamentalist coalition.
Al-Zaman/ AFP report that Jalal Talabani (a Kurdish leader) and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (leader of the Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance), were supposed to meet at Sulaimaniyah with US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Wednesday concerning the formation of a new government, but the meeting ended up being postponed, according to al-Hayat. Former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, a secular ex-Baathist, had been invited to the talks but refused to take part, since he is calling for an investigation into irregularities in the Dec. 15 election and regards it as flawed.
Kurdish member of parliament Mahmoud Osman said that there was coordination between the Americans and the Kurds to resolve the crisis.
Massoud Barzani is said to have proposed to Al-Hakim trading Shiite control of the Ministry of the Interior to the Kurds, with the Shiites taking the Ministry of Defense. Al-Hakim is said to have refused. The ministry of the interior, controlled by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq that al-Hakim heads, has been plagued by charges of running Shiite paramilitary death squads and secret prisons where Sunni Arabs have been tortured and starved. The Americans are said to be determined to get Interior (sort of like the US Department of Homeland Security plus FBI) out of the hands of the fundamentalist Shiite Supreme Council. At the moment, a Sunni Arab holds the post of minister of defense, but he is without any strong party backing. Sunni Arabs and secularists had been demanding both Defense and Interior, but they lost the election, and may not get either.