With Baghdad’s thankfully peaceful recapture of Kirkuk from the Kurds last week, Iraq has been spared from being drawn into another bloody civil conflict just as it wraps up its fight against Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). There was much speculation — since the Kurds in Iraq overwhelmingly voted for independence on September 25 — that Iraq could be heading towards partition and civil war. However, a series of events last week has effectively paused Kurdish independence aspirations, when the Iraqi army and powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias took back control of the city that was captured by the Kurds during the war against Daesh.
The city is very important, not only because it is oil-rich, but symbolically, as it is not officially part of an Iraqi Kurdistan, although it has been historically a Kurdish-majority city. Aside from Baghdad, Turkey and Iran are also adamantly against Kurdish independence, due to their own sizeable Kurdish populations and have indicated that they could work together to militarily crush Kurds if they choose to go down that path.
It seems to be that the pressure on the Kurds to back down has reached a fever pitch and they could be caving into regional pressures. As Iraqi players move forward from Kirkuk, dialogue is crucial in making sure there are no missteps on either side.
The situation can be ignited by a single flame, so officials and leaders need to set an example for their constituents to tread carefully, respectfully and with the well-being of the Iraqi people in mind. Already, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al Abadi has said that he is not interested in conflict with the “Kurdish brothers”.
But even as Baghdad has seemingly won the upperhand thus far, it has an obligation to be more fair in its dealings with the Kurdish population and atone for past atrocities — not only to the Kurds, but to Shiites, Sunnis and other minority religious groups and ethnicities.
In order to move forward, it should deal righteously with its past and confront unresolved issues head-on. However arbitrary the borders were, drawn by the French and British 100 years ago, people have, nonetheless, lived in these nation-states for the past century — together. While it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies, the struggles and sufferings are in no way unique to Kurds alone. Therefore, the focus should be on unity rather than disintegration — but the rights of minorities and historically oppressed people should become a top priority for governments to rebuild a nation torn apart by war, sectarianism and foreign meddling.