Thursday, January 5, 2012

Will Kirkuk Unravel Now That The American Forces Are Gone?

A major worry of some American analysts and soldiers is the situation in Kirkuk. Located in northern Iraq, it is the hub of Iraq’s disputed territories. For decades the city and surrounding area were contested, with Saddam Hussein trying to Arabize it by moving in people from southern and central Iraq, and forcing out Kurds and Turkmen. The Kurds responded with military offensives using their peshmerga to try to capture the city. Since 2003, those tensions have remained with all the major groups in the province claiming it. Many in the United States are afraid that this situation will deteriorate now that the U.S. military is not there. There are definitely on-going political disputes, and the future of the province remains unclear, but to think that the situation will unravel seems overblown.

All of Kirkuk’s major political parties constantly bicker with one another. On December 26, 2011 for instance, Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani threatened to have a Kurdish administered referendum in Kirkuk if Article 140 were not implement. Article 140 is part of the Iraqi constitution, which says that people who were forced out by Saddam were to be returned, the Arabs he moved in would leave, there would then be a census, and finally a referendum would be held on the future of all the disputed territories in the country. It has never been implemented, which is why Barzani threatened to hold an election administered by Kurdistan. That came on the heels of a member of the Turkmen Front on the provincial council rejecting a referendum, and calling for Tamim governorate to become an autonomous region. The month before, the party also said an international investigation was needed to look into violence against their community, because the government was doing nothing about it. Turkmen, feeling caught between the more powerful Kurdish and Arabs forces have asked for the province to become its own region so that it would not be under the control of either Baghdad or Kurdistan. The Arab Group on the provincial council chimed in by saying that it would form its own committee to protect its community who it claimed was under attack as well. A parliamentarian from the Iraqi National Movement blamed the Kurds for these troubles. The fear of violence was expressed by the province’s police chief who said that the U.S. was providing essential logistics, training, and intelligence to the local security forces, and that would be missed. The head of the Kurdish security force the Asayesh also claimed that there was an increase in attacks since the U.S. began withdrawing. He went on to say that he did not believe that the security forces could handle the situation now that the Americans were gone. A sign of the growing tensions after the U.S. withdrawal was when the Americans tried turning over an air base to the Iraqis in mid-November. The Kurdish controlled police refused to allow the Iraqi Army in. At one point, both sides pulled guns on each other, and it took six hours to resolve the dispute. All of these statements were typical of the political rhetoric in the governorate. Each community claims to be a victim, and often implies that one of the others is responsible. The result is each one wants its own security forces, its own special committee, and its own solution to the province’s problems. None seem willing to work with each other as a result, which leads to the worries about how the governorate will ultimately work out.

Surprisingly, the political differences within Tamim have not led to much violence compared to the rest of the country. For most of 2011, the governorate was in the middle to bottom ranking in number of monthly deaths for instance. In January there were eight deaths, followed by 28 in February, 11 in March, 25 in April, going up to 49 in May, but then declining to 10 in June, 33 in July, 11 in August, 19 in September, finished off by 6 in October, 8 in November, and 21 in December. Those numbers placed Tamim in the bottom to middle of provinces with deaths ten out of twelve months. In December, it had the sixth most deaths out of ten provinces, in November it was eight out of eight, and in October it was sixth out of ten. The same thing could be said about attacks in the province. Like the rest of the country, there was an uptick in militant operations during the summer. Attacks went from 13 in January, to 33 in February, to 37 in March, before jumping to 50 in April, and 45 in May. Just like casualties, Tamim was also in the middle of the pact in terms of how many security incidents it had in relation to the rest of the country. Despite the accusations made by the province’s parties, all of the major communities in Tamim have faced violence, and almost all of it has been at the hands of insurgent groups. They are playing upon these tensions to try to divide and ignite larger conflicts within the province. Fortunately, these attempts have larger failed as politicians have only complained about the attacks, not incited their followers to take up arms against each other.

Tamim – Deaths, Attacks, And Ranking 2011
No. of Deaths
Rank Out of Provinces With Monthly Deaths
No. of Attacks
Rank Out of Provinces With Monthly Attacks
6 out of 12
8 out of 15
4 out of 13
6 out of 14
7 out of 14
6 out of 14
5 out of 12
2 out of 16
4 out of 15
5 out of 13
8 out of 10
8 out of 13
6 out of 12
4 out of 15
7 out of 13
3 out of 15
7 out of 11
6 out of 13
6 out of 10
6 out of 16
8 out of 8
5 out of 12
6 out of 10
3 out of 11

While Kirkuk remains a point of contention within Tamim province, and nationally, it does not appear that it will suddenly blow up any time soon. The arguments over the governorate have remained largely political, and that does not look to be changed. Despite the concerted efforts of insurgents, they have not been able to exploit this matter, and cause ethnosectarian violence. Rather, their attacks and the number of casualties they’ve been able to inflict there have been relatively low compared to the rest of Iraq. While American officials and analysts may fret about Kirkuk then, it is a matter that needs a negotiated settlement, not something that will require security operations or a U.S. military presence. The American period in Iraqi history is coming to an end, and it’s now up to the Iraqis to solve their problems as it always should have been. That doesn’t mean Kirkuk will be fixed any time soon, but the current status quo will hold for the foreseeable future despite worries to the contrary.


Ali, Mandy Samira, “Mixed reactions to invite the internationalization of the issue of targeting of Iraqi Turkmen,” Radio Free Iraq, 11/11/11

Arango, Tim, “Kirkuk Tensions Highlight Concerns Over U.S. Troop Exit,” At War, New York Times, 4/7/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Arabs in Kirkuk to form popular committees for defense,” 12/23/11
- “No one can force Kirkuk to join Kurdistan, Barzani,” 12/26/11
- “Turkmen attacked amid official silence – Turkmen Front,” 10/17/11

Bartu, Peter, “Wrestling with the integrity of a nation: the disputed internal boundaries in Iraq,” International Affairs, November 2010

Gutman, Roy, “Kirkuk is a ‘land mine’ where all sides want U.S. to stay,” McClatchy Newspapers, 7/18/11

Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Security in Iraq,” United Nations

Mahmoud, Nawzad, “US Withdrawal Deals ‘Heavy Blow’ to Kirkuk,” Rudaw, 12/15/11

McEvers, Kelly, “Tensions Feared As U.S. Leaves Disputed Iraqi City,” NPR, 12/14/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “ISC : initial agreement to form a political council in Kirkuk in the light of convergence between ISC and Kurdistan Alliance,” 12/30/11
- “Obeidi threatens to resort to “options in case injustice against Arab component in Kirkuk continued,” 1/1/12

Samad, Dityar, “Turkmen call for Kirkuk autonomy,” AK News, 12/22/11

Zangana, Jamshid, “Kirkuk security deteriorating with U.S. withdrawal,” AK News, 12/12/11

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