Crisis in Kirkuk

Crisis in Kirkuk: The Ethnopolitics of Conflict and Compromise

Liam Anderson
Gareth Stansfield
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Crisis in Kirkuk
    Book Description:

    Despite dramatic improvements in the security environment in most parts of Iraq, still unresolved are many core political issues, foremost of which is the conflict over the city and region of Kirkuk. With immense oil reserves and a diverse population of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmens, Kirkuk in recent history has been scarred by interethnic violence and state-sponsored ethnic cleansing. Throughout the twentieth century, successive Arab Iraqi governments engaged in a brutal campaign to increase Kirkuk's Arab population at the expense of Kurds and Turkmens. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a newly empowered Kurdish leadership has sought to reverse the effects of the Arabization campaign and to hold a referendum on incorporating Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Region. The Kurds' efforts are, however, strongly opposed by Kirkuk's Turkmens, Arabs, and also most states in the region. In Crisis in Kirkuk, Liam Anderson and Gareth Stansfield offer a dispassionate analysis of one of Iraq's most pressing and unresolved problems. Drawing on extensive research and fieldwork, the authors investigate the claims to ownership made by each of Kirkuk's competing communities. They consider the constitutional mechanisms put in place to address the issue and the problems that have plagued their implementation. The book concludes with an assessment of the measures needed to resolve the crisis in Kirkuk, stressing that finding a compromise acceptable to all sides is vital to the future stability of Iraq.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0604-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Iraq has witnessed many dates of significance in recent years. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent overthrow of the Ba’th regime, events in Iraq have dominated the attention of the world’s media, and rarely a day has passed that did not experience some momentous or bloody occurrence. Compared with many previous months, however, July 2008 was quiet. Certainly, political arguments continued to rage in Baghdad among different political factions, and the security situation, while considerably better than in previous years, still remained a cause for concern. Controversial issues remained unresolved, and actions taken by the Iraqi...

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 9-12)

      Few, if any, contested territories can match the complexity of the town of Kirkuk and the muhafadhat (province) around it.¹ Kirkuk is a classic divided city, defined as a place in which groups are rivals for power and resources and where there is a fundamental conflict over the cultural identity and state location of the city.² Kirkuk is clearly not unique as a divided city over which people are prepared to fight and die, but the scale of the problems there—the numbers of actors involved, resource dimensions, and international involvement—adds layers of complexity that are matched by few...

    • Chapter 1 Kirkuk before Iraq
      (pp. 13-23)

      Kirkuk is a city and region in many ways defined by its physical and, in the twentieth century, political/economic geography. Existing on the Mesopotamian plain with the Zagros mountains to the northeast, the northwestern limit of Kirkuk’s sphere of influence is marked by the Little Zab River, with the Diyala River performing a similar role to the southeast. To the southwest the low mountain range of Jabal Hamrin—considered by Kurds to be the southernmost limit of Kurdistan—presents a natural barrier between Kirkuk and more arid areas to the south.¹

      This region—in effect what was to become the...

    • Chapter 2 Kirkuk in the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 24-48)

      To build a picture of pre–World War I Kirkuk is not the easiest of tasks. The images presented by historians from Iraq are more often than not deeply essentialized and promote the notion of Kirkuk being dominated by either Turkmens or Kurds. Few of these sources are particularly useful when trying to build an understanding of Kirkuk’s demography in this early period of the twentieth century.

      In building an accurate picture of Kirkuk in the early twentieth century, the most useful starting point is the findings of the many survey teams tasked by post-Ottoman powers in the aftermath of...

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 49-50)

      Territories over which ownership is contested feature prominently in conflicts across the world. Few of them are straightforward. Instead, they are often the end products of decades, even centuries, of political, social, and economic interactions that manifest themselves in the present as seemingly intractable examples of ethnic hatred, grounded in the perennial divisions between peoples who have failed to come to terms with their differences. In the Middle East, Jerusalem stands out as the most emotive symbol of the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis, each of them viewing it as their own for intertwined religious and historical reasons. In Europe,...

    • Chapter 3 The Post-2003 Iraqi Context
      (pp. 51-55)

      No disputed territory exists in isolation from its wider geopolitical context. Kirkuk’s history and geopolitical situation, however, seem tailor-made to produce interethnic struggle. From being a largely cosmopolitan town of the Ottoman Empire, with a mainly Turkish-speaking bureaucracy and elite (irrespective of whether or not these were in fact Turkmens, Kurds, or Arabs), Iraq was reinvented in the aftermath of World War I, which introduced new relationships between communities and the state. Increasingly communities became empowered or weakened on the basis of their ethnic and religious identities as a new “dominant nationhood” largely imbued by notions of Arabism and associated...

    • Chapter 4 The Turkmen Perspective: The Demise of a Formerly Dominant Community
      (pp. 56-70)

      Few facts about Iraq’s Turkmen community are easy to establish. It is not clear how many Turkmens inhabit Iraq, and it is equally difficult to determine conclusively who the Turkmens are and from where they came. These uncertainties are compounded by the existence of a range of Turkmen political organizations representing views that cover a wide range of opinions. Some of these include the avowedly anti-Kurdish (or, more accurately, anti–Kurdistan Region), the staunchly Iraqi nationalist, the strongly Shi’i Islamist, and those who may be described as pro-Kurdish as they seek the integration of Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Region. Notwithstanding...

    • Chapter 5 The Kurdish Perspective: Gaining “Jerusalem”
      (pp. 71-78)

      The Kurdish claim to Kirkuk is perhaps second only to the crisis in Palestine in its ability to generate significant political rhetoric across the wider Middle East. Indeed, when the wider geopolitical ramifications of the two situations are placed side by side, developments surrounding the Kurdistan Region and the future of Kirkuk could far surpass the transformative impact—in either a negative or a positive way—of events that happen in the Palestinian occupied territories.

      The reasoning behind this claim is straightforward and should serve as a stark warning to those considering future security scenarios that expect the Kurds to...

    • Chapter 6 The Arab Perspective: Applying the Old Rules
      (pp. 79-86)

      In many ways the Arab perspective on the situation in Kirkuk is the most maligned. If not viewed now as the forces responsible for Arabization, the Arabs are still often seen as the beneficiaries of the policy, gaining access to land, employment, and other opportunities at the expense of those Kirkukis deemed by those now contesting the future of the city as indigenous. With both the Kurdish and Turkmen communities, the task of identifying who is an indigenous inhabitant of Kirkuk is fraught with difficulties, and this is even more the case with regard to the Arab community. This task...

    • Chapter 7 The Kurds Ascendant
      (pp. 91-112)

      By the time Kirkuk fell to a mixture of US special forces and Kurdish peshmerga on 9 April 2003, the future history of the city had already been irrevocably altered by a decision taken in Ankara the previous month. After months of unseemly haggling between Washington and Ankara, on 1 March a majority of voting members of the Turkish parliament finally endorsed a plan to allow US troops to launch a second front using Turkish territory as a staging area.¹ However, the abstention of 19 members of parliament (MPs) meant that the final vote tally—264 in favor and 251...

    • Chapter 8 The Kurds Triumphant
      (pp. 113-138)

      The issue of Kirkuk’s future status came to the forefront with the signing of the interim constitution, the so-called “Transitional Administrative Law” of Iraq (TAL), in Baghdad in March 2004. Prior to this point, the need to reverse the former regime’s Arabization policy had been relatively uncontroversial. As long as the “reverse Arabization” policy was about rectifying past injustices, there was a broad consensus in its favor among most of the city’s ethnic groups. Article 58 (shown in Figure 8.1) of the TAL, however, irrevocably shifted the terms of debate.

      Article 58 spoke of the need to remedy the “injustice...

    • Chapter 9 The Kurds Denied
      (pp. 139-164)

      The December federal election differed from that of January in at least three key respects. First, unlike in January, when international monitors had been forced to observe the elections from the relative safety of Jordan, the December election was monitored in-country by up to thirteen hundred international observers. This meant that voting irregularities could be investigated and adjudicated with some degree of speed and credibility. The results of the December election were, therefore, generally “cleaner” and more reliable than those of January. Second, the enthusiastic participation of at least two major Sunni Arab blocs, the Iraqi Accord Front (IAF) and...

    • Chapter 10 The Struggle for Kirkuk: Problems of Process
      (pp. 167-184)

      Article 140 was drafted to resolve a complex problem—the future status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories—and its failure does nothing to eliminate the original problem. If a viable solution is to be found to a problem of immense significance to Iraq, it is important to understand why article 140 was apparently incapable of providing this. The interaction of multiple factors contributed to the failure of article 140, among them the sheer legal and logistical complexity of the process, the growing strength of opposition to 140 at the federal level, the diminishing political influence of the Kurdish parties,...

    • Chapter 11 The Struggle for Kirkuk: Problems of Final Status
      (pp. 185-203)

      Predicting the course of events in Iraq is a thankless task, even perhaps a fool’s errand. In the context of Kirkuk, this inherent unpredictability is magnified by the complexity and intensity of the issues at stake. The future of Kirkuk is of interest to parties at the local, national, regional, and international levels of analysis, and events at any one of these levels have the potential to shape Kirkuk’s future in fundamental ways. The death of Ayatollah Sistani, for example, would have no direct link to the Kirkuk issue. However, if this tipped Iraq into a full-scale sectarian civil war,...

    • Chapter 12 The Struggle for Kirkuk: Future Governance
      (pp. 204-233)

      The key issue to be addressed in assessing the future governance of Kirkuk is whether power is to be shared among the governorate’s various ethnic communities and if so, to what extent and how? Power sharing does not distill neatly into a dichotomy, and there is a spectrum of possibilities, raging from total majority control at one end to power sharing on the basis of strict equality for all groups at the other. Nonetheless, as a first cut, it is useful to package the concept of power sharing into a dichotomy based on the distinction between majority control and meaningful...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 234-244)

    It is difficult to write objectively about Kirkuk and all but impossible to be perceived as writing objectively on the issue. Kurds, Turkmens, and Arabs all tend to view their own perspectives, or narratives, as the true interpretations of events, and empirical evidence, no matter how robust, that supports the claims of one group over another is invariably dismissed as partisan propaganda. The absence of uncontested “facts” about Kirkuk should not, however, preclude informed speculation. The application of common sense to the available evidence should enable reasonable, thoughtful people to agree on certain “truths” about Kirkuk and puncture some of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 245-282)
  12. List of People Interviewed
    (pp. 283-284)
  13. Index
    (pp. 285-296)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 297-298)