Patrick Markey’s Reuters article analyzing the tensions between autonomous Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government over their respective approaches to the Syrian civil war–Iraqi Kurdistan is closely allying itself with the anti-central Syrian Kurds, at least, while the Iraqi central government dominated by Shi’ites doesn’t want the current Iranian-allied government to be dislodged–makes for cheery reading. Oil makes things wonderfully complicated, too.
Might we yet have another Kurdish war in Iraq, or maybe even a broader conflict?
Over a few days last week, Baghdad and Kurdish officials separately rushed troops to the Syrian frontier, ostensibly to secure it against unrest in the neighboring country; but the mobilization brought Iraqi Arab and Kurdish soldiers face to face along their own disputed internal border.
Washington intervened and a potential clash was avoided. But the standoff opened a new front in Baghdad’s already dangerously fragile relations with the Kurds in their push for more autonomy from central government.
“We don’t want to fight, we are both Iraqis, but if war comes, we won’t run,” said Peshmerga Ismael Murad Khady, sitting under a straw awning to ward off the sun, the battered stock of a BKC machine gun pointing not towards some foreign border but at fellow countrymen manning the Iraqi army post.
Just visible are Iraqi army trenches and tents beyond the empty stretch of road that is now a de facto no-man’s land in this small frontline. Nearby, local cars kick up dust as they take sidetracks to skirt the two posts.
Behind the Peshmerga, a title that means literally ‘those who lay down their lives’, a battery of Kurdish 122-mm howitzers directs its barrels towards the Iraqi line. They are part of the heavier armour reinforcements Kurdistan and Iraq drafted into the disputed area just a kilometre from the Syrian border.
Always a potential flashpoint, tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan escalated after U.S. troops left in December, removing a buffer between the Iraqi Arab dominated central government and ethnic Kurds who have run their own autonomous area since 1991.
Iraq’s national army units and Peshmerga have faced off before, only to pull back before clashes as both regions tested each other’s nerves, lacking however any interest in confrontation.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, a Shi’ite muslim, and Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani have sparred more aggressively since America’s withdrawal, as Kurdistan chaffs against central government control.
At the heart of their dispute are contested territories claimed by Iraqi Arabs and Kurds and crude reserves now attracting majors like Exxon and Chevron to Kurdistan, upsetting Baghdad, which says it controls rights to develop oil.
Though autonomous, Kurdistan still relies on Baghdad for its share of the national oil revenues.
Kurdistan is growing increasingly closer to neighbour Turkey as it talks about ways to export its own oil and not rely on Baghdad. Maliki’s government accuses Kurdistan of violating the law by signing deals with oil majors.