Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kurds Demand Peshmerga Return To Iraq’s Diyala Province

Recently Kurdish politicians have been complaining about violence against Kurds in the disputed territories in Iraq’s Diyala province. They claim that hundreds of Kurds have been killed and displaced since 2003, and are demanding that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) do something about it. In turn, the KRG has been talking about sending their peshmerga militia to the area to protect its people there. That would violate an agreement with Baghdad that security forces can only be deployed there if both sides agree. This also comes as the United States is ending joint patrols in Iraq that were meant to foster cooperation between Baghdad and Kurdistan’s forces. The Kurds could be taking advantage of this situation to reassert their claims to the disputed areas of Diyala.
Districts of Diyala province (Wikipedia)

At the beginning of August 2011, Kurds began complaining about their treatment in Diyala province. Kurdish officials in the disputed district of Khanaqin in the northeastern section of the governorate along the Iranian border accused the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of doing nothing for them. The agricultural director of the district for example, said that under Saddam 800 plots of land owned by Kurds were taken by the government and given to Arabs, and that the titles for them were still under dispute. This has been dragging on for years, and the official said the KRG should’ve done something about it. Another problem was that the district is under the authority of both the KRG and Baghdad, with the administration run by Kurds, but the money coming from the central government, which often causes difficulties. Finally, the Kurds claimed that hundreds of them had been killed and displaced by insurgents since 2003, and that the security forces had done nothing about it. In the second week of August, a delegation of Kurdish parliamentarians visited the district, and claimed that 1,400 Kurdish families had been forced out, and 500 killed in the province since 2003. They said militants were still targeting Kurds, and that Arabs were trying to force them out as well. The group called on the KRG to re-deploy peshmerga to the area for security, since the Iraqi army was doing nothing, or at worse was collaborating with insurgents.
The numbered areas are the disputed territories occupied by the Kurds after the 2003 invasion (United Nations)

From 2003-2008 Khanaqin was under the control of the peshmerga, but in 2008 they were forced to withdraw by the Iraqi army. After the 2003 invasion, the Kurds moved south from Kurdistan into Ninewa, Tamim, and Diyala occupying areas that had historically been Kurdish, claiming the right to annex them. This angered many local Arabs and Turkmen, but was accepted by the Americans who were barely able to secure the country after the fall of Saddam. The 2005 constitution included Article 140 that was supposed to resolve the futures of all these districts, but was never implemented by Baghdad because it opposed the Kurds’ aspirations. In 2008, Maliki sent the army into Khanaqin under the cover of an anti-insurgent offensive, and forced the peshmerga to withdraw. By doing so, Maliki was attempting to assert the central government as the ultimate authority over the disputed territories until their futures were determined. After that, the two sides agreed to only deploy forces to the area after consulting with each other. In August 2011, a spokesman for the Peshmerga Ministry told the press that the Iraqi army had recently sent two battalions into Khanaqin in violation of this agreement. If the Kurds were to send their forces back into this area unilaterally it would dramatically increase the tensions, not only in Diyala but in Baghdad as well. In 2008, Maliki used Khanaqin as an example that he would stand up to the Kurds over their de facto control of the disputed territories. If the KRG sent peshmerga back there, it would directly challenge Maliki over this issue.

The Kurds may feel this is the chance to do this because the Americans are withdrawing. After 2008, the U.S. military created joint patrols of Arabs, Kurds, and Americans to try to mediate these types of conflicts in the disputed territories. In late-July 2011, the U.S. command in northern Iraq announced that it was ending its involvement in this operation because it was pulling out of the country. The Arabs and Kurds would still continue with their checkpoints however, and the U.S. could be called in to try to diffuse any situation until they fully withdrew. The Americans then, would be in no position to stop the re-deployment of peshmerga to Khanaqin if the KRG wanted to follow that path.

Kurdistan was also recently able to move their peshmerga into another disputed area with no real consequences. In February 2011, when protests broke out in Tamim province, the Kurds sent in 10,000 peshmerga just outside of Kirkuk claiming that they were afraid that terrorists would exploit the demonstrations. In reality, they were meant to be a warning against any further assemblies. Despite constant complaints from Arabs and Turkmen in the province, the Kurdish forces remained there for several weeks before withdrawing. Kurdistan may be thinking that they could repeat that experience in Diyala since they were able to move their forces into Tamim at no real cost.

So far, the Kurds are only talking about redeploying their peshmerga to Diyala. KRG ministry officials have said that they could only do that after coming to an arrangement with Baghdad, which would never agree to such a move. On the other hand, Kurdish parliamentarians and local Kurds are pushing the matter hard. The Kurdish leadership may be thinking that this is the time to test the matter because the Americans are leaving. Such a move would upset not only the status quo in Diyala, but in the capital as well. Prime Minister Maliki is currently caught up in his rivalry with Iyad Allawi over completing the formation of the new government. If the Kurds were to take an aggressive stance in Diyala the premier would have to respond in kind, and quickly to make sure that he wasn’t fighting a two front battle in the country. That could lead to another military confrontation in Diyala as happened in 2008. That is just the kind of incident that Iraq’s government is ill prepared to deal with because its politicians tend to use brinkmanship, pushing every matter to near breaking point. The best-case scenario is that the Kurds simply keep this a rhetorical battle rather than take action in Khanaqin. Working on implementing Article 140 or coming up with an alternative would be a better use of their energy rather than trying to create facts on the ground in their favor.


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

Aswat al-Iraq, “Americans to stop joint operations in North Iraq,” 7/25/11
- “Kurdish Peshmerga Forces withdraw from part of Kirkuk, North Iraq,” 3/28/11
- “Kurdistan official denies sending Kurdish forces to Diala Province,” 8/15/11

Hasan, Rebin, “Baghdad approval needed for disputed area Pesherga deployment,” AK News, 8/12/11

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

Karim, Karzan, “Kurdish troops sent to disputed Diyala province “to protect citizens,” AK News, 8/15/11

Loney, Jim, “Analysis: Kurds serve warning as U.S. withdrawal nears,” Reuters, 7/31/11

Mahmoud, Nawzad, “Khanaqin Officials: The Kurdish Leaders Have Left Us On Our Own,” Rudaw, 8/2/11

Mohammed, Bryar, “Kurdish forces ‘should be deployed’ to Diyala,” AK News, 8/10/11

Mohammed, Fryad, “Kurdistan parliament to discuss plight of Kurds in disputed areas,” AK News, 8/16/11

Rahim, Hemin Baban, “Kurds Face Fresh Threats In Diyala,” Rudaw, 8/16/11

Rao, Prashant, “US forces to stop joint operations in Iraq’s north,” Agence France Presse, 7/23/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/11

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