Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is The U.S. Committed To Resolving The Kirkuk Controversy In Iraq?

The recent delay of the passage of the 2010 election law showed that Kirkuk remains one of the major unresolved issues in Iraq. There is now talk that the United States will try to deal with the city before it withdraws its troops by the end of 2011.

Joost Hilterman of the International Crisis Group recently wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books where he said that the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and commander of U.S. forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno will attempt to work out a deal over the future of Kirkuk after the Iraqi elections, which are set for January 2010. Odierno is especially worried that Kirkuk could be a flashpoint for renewed violence, this time between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. He has successfully pushed the two sides to create a joint command center to coordinate the work of the local Iraqi forces and the Kurdish peshmerga in Kirkuk, but plans to expand that to surrounding areas has stalled because of politically differences. The local Arabs and Turkmen for example, think that the idea will legitimize the presence of the peshmerga, which they hope will someday leave.

U.S. forces have also returned to the streets of Kirkuk to conduct joint patrols, the first since the June 30, 2009 withdrawal from Iraqi cities. The chief of police in Kirkuk publicly said that the Iraqis could do their jobs without assistance, but privately told the BBC that he still calls the Americans for help with operations. This is another step by the U.S. meant to keep a lid on tensions in Kirkuk.

Iraqis desperately need some outside mediation to deal with Kirkuk. Left to their own devices, Iraq’s politicians could go on for months and months debating the issue. It has already been responsible for delaying two election laws, and Article 140 of the Constitution that called for a census and then referendum on the issue has been all but given up on. The United Nations has been trying to work on the issue since early 2007, but to no avail. The U.S. might be the best and last chance to make forward movement on Kirkuk. While their influence with Baghdad is declining, they still have many friends in Kurdistan, and can act as an honest broker since they have taken no position on the city, other than wanting it resolved. It’s definitely something that needs to be kept an eye on in the coming months.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Iraq-US joint patrols tour Kirkuk City,” 10/22/09

Gatehouse, Gabriel, “US presence remains in divided Kirkuk,” BBC, 10/20/09

Hilterman, Joost, “Iraq on the Edge,” New York Review of Books,” 11/19/09

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09
- “Oil For Soil: Toward A Grand Bargain On Iraq And The Kurds,” 10/28/08

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