Iraq: Kurdish-Arab War in the Offing?

McClatchy is alarmed at the rapid deterioration of relations between Kurds and Arabs in the north of Iraq. The victory of the Sunni Arab nationalist party, al-Hadba’, in Ninevah Province has dealt a setback to the Kurds, who initially controlled the province’s governing council and whose paramilitary, the Peshmerga, was deployed in parts of the province with Kurdish populations. The Kurdistan Regional Government has already erased the provincial divisions among Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaymaniya, and would like to absorb much of Ninevah Province, as well. The Green Line separating Kurdish territory from Arab is being redrawn and challenged, to the benefit of the Kurds.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a centralizer, has come into conflict with the Kurds over his desire to restore an effective central government.

Some of the alarmism on this issue derives from Iraqi-Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who says that Obama should intervene to settle outstanding Kurdish/ Arab disputes before the US troops draw down.

The Open Source Center of the USG translated the article:

‘ Kurdish Officials Warn of Kurd-Arab War if Kirkuk Problem Not Resolved
Report from Baghdad by Rahmah al-Salim: “Deputies Close To Government: ‘Irbil Warnings of Arab-Kurdish War Increase Tension;’ Kurdish Official to Al-Sharq al-Awsat: ‘Nechirvan Barzani’s Statements Reflect Real Fears;’ American Army: ‘We Will Not Side With Anyone”‘
Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 . . .

‘ An Iraqi MP close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says that statements made by Nechirvan Barzani, Kurdistan Region prime minister, about a war breaking out between Arabs and Kurds after the American withdrawal from Iraq, are “a disservice to the political situation in the country.”

Sami al-Askari, an MP for the Unified Iraqi Coalition, stresses that “the recent statements made by the Kurds do not serve the political situation in Iraq,” and points out to Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online that “Surely there are problems between the central government and the Kurdistan Region government; these differences cannot be solved in this way but through dialogue and commitment to the Constitution.”

In this context, Barzani had voiced concern over an American withdrawal from Iraq before a settlement of litigious issues between Baghdad and Irbil, mainly the problem of Kirkuk. He also urged the US to put pressure on the Iraqi Government for a final solution concerning Kirkuk, and complained about the refusal of the Americans to intervene directly in this question.

Furthermore, Kamal Kirkuki, Kurdistan Region Parliament Deputy Speaker, has described Al-Maliki as a “dangerous man”, and said that the Kurds are trying to stand up to him, adding: “Al-Maliki is a danger to Iraq and to democracy; he is a second Saddam.”‘

If the Kurdish-Arab hostity rises futher,the US could be drawn right back in to Iraq. The Eastern Mediterranean and the meeting-point of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq, is too important to allow it to fall into substantial and long-term violence.

Meanwhile, several parliamentary factions may be conniving at a vote of no confidence and a toppling of the Iraq government of PM Nuri al-Maliki. His centralizing tendencies, for which the Kurds ahdve denounced him, are at issue.


Unrelated reading: See the recent comments of Howard Eissenstat and Manan Ahmed at Informed Comment: Global Affairs on Turkey-Israel and on Pakistan.

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