Monday, April 11, 2011

Tensions In And Around Iraq’s Kirkuk Ebb And Flow

Tensions in Iraq’s Tamim province have been on the rise recently. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) decided to deploy peshmerga west of Kirkuk in February to counter demonstrations there. Then a political deal was cut between the Kurdish Alliance and the Turkmen Front to divide up to the two top posts in the governorate, angering the Arabs. Finally, a fight erupted between Turkmen and Kurdish students at a school in Kirkuk. These recent events all express the on-going disputes between the major communities within the governorate.

On April 5, 2011 the Deputy Peshmerga Minister from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that the peshmerga were withdrawing from western Tamim province, and that their positions would be turned over to the Americans. They are to eventually give way to joint U.S.-Iraqi-Peshmerga checkpoints. The U.S. military and Baghdad negotiated the pullout. The Kurds had actually begun removing their forces on March 28

The peshmerga were deployed to western Tamim on February 24. This was in anticipation of the Day of Rage national protests in Iraq. On February 25 there were violent protests in the towns of Riyadh and Hawija, some of which focused their anger upon the Kurdish presence in the province. The KRG claimed that their forces were in the area to counter terrorists and Al Qaeda who were trying to exploit the demonstrations. The real reason was to suppress further marches. Now that they have subsided, the peshmerga are ready to exit, defusing one major crisis in Tamim.
New Tamim Governor Karim at swearing in ceremony (Rudaw)
On the political front, the new governor Najmuddin Karim from the Kurdish Coalition and head of the provincial council Hassan Torhan of the Turkmen Front were sworn in on April 3. The previous head and governor stepped down on March 15, claiming that they were responding to the demands of protesters. In reality, the Kurds and Turkmen had finally agreed to implement a power sharing agreement forged in 2009. Under that deal a Kurd was to be governor, an Arab the deputy governor, and a Turkmen the head of council. The groups became deadlocked almost as soon as the ink was dry on the deal however. The attempt to revive it has not made the situation much better, and brought out internal splits within the parties. When Karim and Torhan were sworn in only one Arab member of the council attended. On March 29 when they were elected, the Arab bloc abstained. When their names were first proposed, a Kurdish councilman walked out. Before that, a Shiite Turkmen politician objected to Torhan’s nomination, and the Kurds walked out in protest. Torhan shot himself in the foot as well, when he said that if he were elected he would only work for the Turkmen of Tamim. Despite all the protests, walkouts, and boycotts Torhan and Najmuddin were finally elected. The Arabs are feeling left out however, meaning that the arguments will continue.

As a further sign of the growing friction in Tamim, there was a fight at the Kirkuk Technological Institute. On March 28, Turkmen students were preparing for Martyr’s Day, which celebrates 20 Turkmen who were killed in the 1991 uprisings against Saddam Hussein following the Gulf War. They got permission from the dean, who then revoked it. That angered the organizers who then staged a protest. Kurdish students attacked them, leading to eleven people being injured. The provincial council had to step in to diffuse the situation. In a city full of competing groups and interests, a public exhibition of pride can lead to trouble as the Turkmen students at the Institute found out.

Kirkuk city and Tamim province are part of Iraq’s disputed territories with Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Christians all laying claim to parts of them. Despite all of the recent upheaval with the deployment and withdrawal of new peshmerga units, disputes over the political leadership of the governorate, and the attack at the Kirkuk Technological Institute, the competing groups have settled into a rough status quo in recent years. Similar arguments have erupted in recent times, and new ones are certain to emerge in the future as well, but they have not shaken the rough balance between the competing groups. Unfortunately, the government in Baghdad and Kurdistan are too caught up in their own petty power struggles to deal with Tamim, so this situation is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.


Ahmed, Hevidar, “Combined forces to replace Peshmerga in Kirkuk,” AK News, 4/5/11

Ali, Aram “Kirkuk’s New Governor Sworn In,” Rudaw, 4/3/11

Alsumaria, “Iraq Kirkuk elects new governor,” 3/29/11
- “Peshmerga Forces to withdraw from Iraq Kirkuk,” 3/26/11

Arango, Tim, “Clashes Fuel Debate Over U.S. Plan to Leave Iraq,” New York Times, 3/28/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “9 Kurd and Turkomen students in Kirkuk,” 3/28/11
- “Kurdish Peshmerga Forces withdraw from part of Kirkuk, North Iraq,” 3/28/11

Ghareeb, Azad, “an uneasy truce in kirkuk,” Niqash, 3/23/11

Husamaddin, Hiwa, “Kirkuk assings new governor and council chairman,” AK News, 3/30/11

International Crisis Group, “Iraq and the Kurds: Trouble Along the Trigger Line,” 7/8/09

Rostam, Nabaz and Zangana, Jamshid, “Update: Kirkuk students’ quarrel left 11 wounded,” AK News, 3/28/11

Shuster, Mike, “Kurds Move To Upend The Status Quo In Kirkuk,” Morning Edition, NPR, 3/30/11


Peter Van Buren said...

Joel, I am a former PRT Team Leader, Iraq '09-'10. I was embedded with 2/10th Mountain, 3/82nd Airborne and 1/3 ID.

I've started a blog in support of my book, due out in September, called WE MEANT WELL: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. It is published by MacMillan.

Would you consider a link from Musings in Iraq to my blog at ?

If you check my blogroll, you'll see I am already linking to you.

Thanks and best wishes,

Peter Van Buren

Joel Wing said...

Super busy with work right now. When I get some free time I'll give it a look.