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Iraq quagmire grows more murky

As Kurdish leaders no longer hide their desire for an independent state, US policy has only ensured the deferment of the explosion of the crisis to a later date

Image Credit: AFP
A policeman speaks with a driver at a checkpoint on Sadoun Street in central Baghdad on November 29, 2012, as bombs targeting Shiite Muslims and security forces in Iraq killed 38 people and wounded 107 others in the deadliest day of violence to hit the country in more than two months.
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The Kurdish-Shiite Alliance is a lie, said a leader of the State of Law Coalition, the ruling party in Iraq. This statement angered Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who has strongly denied it. This has led to a war of words and controversy that will widen the rift between yesterday’s allies and today’s foes at the political and military levels.

The recent clashes between the Kurdish militiamen (Peshmarga) and Iraqi troops, which took place on November 16 resulted in deaths and injuries. This happened when the Kurdish forces confronted the Iraqi troops operating under the Iraqi Tigris operations command when trying to enter Tozkharmato district, considering the presence of these forces as a threat to Kurdistan’s security.

Washington immediately interfered to prevent the escalation of the crisis and the collapse of the political process, according to a Kurdish source. US Vice-President John Biden, tasked with the Iraq dossier, warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki that any kind of attack by Iraqi forces against Kurdish Peshmarga is a red line for the US, adding, if war breaks out in Kirkuk or any other location, US forces will enter the scene. The US offered to deploy its forces between the two parties if they agreed, but it was rejected by the prime minister.

Anyone who follows the exchange of statements and the course of events can conclude that both sides are pushing towards further escalation through the irresponsible statements by the two parties, apart from regional countries which play their behind-the-scene games.

It is difficult to argue that the current crisis is just one side of the multi-faceted conflict between the Arabs and the Kurds, although ethnicity is not excluded as one of potential factors behind the standoff. This is because not all Arab parties share the prime minister’s stand and the same thing applies to the Kurdish parties, which do not stand with Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, given his radical positions.

Yet it could be said that this crisis is determined by many differences that developed after the withdrawal of US troops. The differences have accumulated in the 10 years since the fall of the former regime and remained unresolved as they were postponed time after time.

It seems that most differences cannot be resolved due to the state of tension prevailing between Baghdad and Arbil, because they are related to the issue of Kurdish and Iraqi identities.

However, the decision by Al Maliki to form the Tigris operations command, which immediately carried out its mission, was the spark that fuelled the tension and shifted the crisis into a new phase of escalation, because the Iraqi forces have been mandated to handle the security dossier and oversee the security forces in Kirkuk, Diyala and Salah Al Deen provinces — the Kurdistan Alliance claims they are affiliated to Kurdistan, including Kirkuk.

Both sides are now speaking selectively about commitment to the constitution. The members of the State of Law, before the formation of their coalition, were strongly present during the drafting of the constitution and so were the Kurds.

However, both sides agreed to leave some issues unsolved in the constitution. Having the constitution as the only point of reference to solve disputes is a must, but the constitution alone has not been the cornerstone of the political process since its inception in 2005.

Current government is no exception

As there was no way to arrive at a consensus on disputed issues, reaching a compromise was the only alternative, despite the fact that some of these compromises damaged the interests of the Iraqi people and the current government is no exception. The prime minister’s decision to form the Tigris Operations command does not clash with the constitution in principle, as this is considered within his exclusive powers as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, responsible for Iraq’s security and safety.

At the same time, commitment to the implementation of Article 140 of the constitution is exactly what the Kurdish leaders are referring to in their approach, considering it as a constitutional merit too.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine that Al Maliki’s decision was made offhand or improvised, especially since the Kurds are very sensitive about the penetration of Iraqi troops into the disputed areas.

So the decision was taken with the aim of escalating the situation and within the framework of the arm-twisting and will-breaking policies which were started by the prime minister and the president of Kurdistan, who became a prominent opponent of Al Maliki’s policies after the decline of Eyad Allawi’s role in Iraq’s political affairs. The Kurds’ reaction to this decision was not difficult to conclude by the State of Law.

Regional circumstances

The Kurdish leaders no longer hide their wish to have an independent state if international and regional circumstances are suitable, while the State of Law Coalition believes that it may not be able to prevent this approach in accordance with the constitution and hence it must accept it as a fait accompli, but with less loss of Iraq’s territories for the benefit of the potential new state.

Finding a way out of this crisis is very difficult. This is simply because the US does not introduce a practical solution when it offers the return of its troops. It actually works to hold back the explosion of the existing crisis to a later time and even provides conducive conditions for aggravating it.

However, the Kurdistan president’s acceptance and submission to Baghdad’s decision is very unlikely. This is because handling the security dossier of the three provinces by the Iraqi Tigris means dropping all claims by the Kurdish president and Alliance.

The question that must be addressed is: Is the Baghdad-Arbil Alliance to keep Iraq unified another lie?

Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.