On February 25, 2011, the date of the Day of Rage protests in Iraq, around 5,000 Kurdish peshmerga moved west of the disputed city of Kirkuk. Kurdish politicians claimed they were only there to protect against terrorist threats, but the real reason was to guard against the demonstrations getting out of hand. The deployment has set off new tensions not only within Tamim between the Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs, but between the major parties in Iraq, and with Turkey.
The main dispute between all the sides is over when and if the peshmerga will withdraw. The Peshmerga Minister Jaffar Mustafa and the Speaker of the Kurdish parliament Kamal Kirkuki claimed that they would not leave until the province was stable, while the deputy Peshmerga Minister said that they were there because of an agreement between Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and U.S. forces. Later, a Kurdish politician told AK News on March 15 that the Kurdish forces would be out in two weeks. Speaker of the Iraqi parliament Osama Nujafi repeated that claim as well. The United States was allegedly behind this deadline, but the speaker of the Kurdish Coalition in the legislature denied there was any agreement. No date has obviously been set for their removal, but the Kurdish forces are likely to be called back when the threat of more protests in Tamim is over.
While the peshmerga are still to the West of Kirkuk, others inside and outside the province continue to complain. On March 17 for example, a Turkmen parliamentarian stated that the Kurdish forces were raising tensions within Tamim, and that their presence was illegal. A lawmaker from the Iraqi National Movement wanted the peshmerga out before the two weeks because they were only making the situation worse. A Turkish paper also claimed that a delegation from Ankara led by the deputy foreign minister traveled to Kurdistan on March 6, and met with KRG President Massoud Barzani to discuss the peshmerga presence. All of these groups are worried that the Kurds are trying to change the fragile balance between them, the Arabs, and Turkmen that exists within the province.
The new peshmerga force is probably only temporary, but the KRG will not order them home until they are sure that there will be no more demonstrations in the governorate. The statements in opposition to their presence highlight the confluence of regional, national, and international interests that are involved with Tamim. Because it is at the heart of the disputed territories within Iraq, many major parties are concerned about events there. Some want Kirkuk to be annexed to Kurdistan, some want it to remain under central government control, while still others have advocated for special status. The new peshmerga forces threaten to change the status quo, which has existed since the 2003 American invasion. It’s exactly that fear that is inspiring all the demands for their withdrawal by Turkmen, Arabs, the Iraqi National Movement, and the Turks. The Kurds can end this dispute, but won’t until they feel their interests are secure.
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AK News, “Peshmerga forces protect Kirkuk,” 3/3/11
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- “Iraq Security Ministers appointment delayed,” 3/17/11
Aziz, Younis, “Kirkuk not Turkey’s business, says KRG official,” AK News, 3/9/11
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