The tension between Kurds and the central government in the Khanaqin district of Diyala province have calmed down, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is still pushing. In early August 2008, Iraqi forces reached the Khanaqin district as part of a security operation in Diyala. The move was intentionally meant to assert the government’s control over a disputed area, which the Kurds wish to annex. After a series of escalating and then de-escalating moves by the two sides, things reached a climax on September 27 when Iraqi police got into a shoot out with Kurdish forces in the town of Jalawlaa. Iraqi troops later forced out a Kurdish political party from government owned buildings in that town in early October. The United States then moved in to mediate the conflict. U.S. officers brought together the Shiite governor of Diyala and the Kurdish mayor of Khanaqin village for example, to reduce tensions. Since then nothing much has been heard from the area.
The New York Times however, reported on October 28 that Maliki is still intent on gaining control of the area. The Times reported that Baghdad tried to set up a Tribal Support Council in the Khanaqin district, and another in Kirkuk. As reported earlier, the Prime Minister has been setting up these groups across southern Iraq to gain support in light of the upcoming provincial elections. These are the first attempts to create such councils north of Baghdad.
Since March when the government launched an offensive in Basra, Maliki has been trying to become the sole power in the country. First, he took on his former allies, the Sadrists in Basra, Sadr City, and Maysan. These were aimed at breaking up the largest Shiite militia in the country, and Maliki’s biggest opponent in provincial elections. Troops were then sent to Mosul and Diyala to deal with the Sunni insurgency. Since this summer, the Prime Minister has taken on his coalition member the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) by forming Tribal Support Councils in provinces they rule. These are meant to sway tribes to Maliki’s Dawa party. At the same time, he also confronted the Kurds in Khanaqin. What was most important about these moves was that the Prime Minister fashioned a new image for himself. Whether they worked out as happened in Basra, or didn’t like in Mosul, Maliki was still taking action. Out of complete self-interest no doubt, but action nonetheless. That has given him a new standing in the country like he’s never had before. As the Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies’ survey reported on earlier pointed out, Maliki is now the most popular politician in Iraq. On the other hand, as military analyst Anthony Cordesman wrote about in September, these operations have been almost completely military in nature, as Baghdad has not proven that it can actually govern. That will be the major question Maliki needs to answer. Is he just interested in amassing as much power as he can, or is he committed to actually improving the living conditions in his country, rebuilding its infrastructure, and delivering services.
For more on the Kurdish-Maliki dispute see:
Cold War Between Baghdad and Kurds Turns Hot
Deal Struck To Defuse Khanaqin Issue
Khanaqin Deal Off?
Kurdish-Baghdad Tensions Over Diyala
The Kurds Come Out Swinging
Maliki Ups the Ante in Khanaqin District of Diyala
Aswat al-Iraq, “2 killed in clashes between policemen, Kurdish party supporters in Jalawlaa,” 9/27/08
- “Iraqi army takes over Kurdish party headquarters,” 10/4/08
Peterson, Scott, “US referees Iraq’s troubled Kurdish-Arab fault line,” Christian Science Monitor, 10/21/08
Rubin, Alissa, “Rejection of Oil Law and Move to Create Tribal Councils Add to Tensions With Kurds,” New York Times, 10/28/08
Russo, Claire, “The Maliki Government Confronts Diyala,” Institute for the Study of War,” 9/23/08
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