Three weeks ago, in the run up to the independence referendum called by Masoud Barzani, I wrote:
One of the major issues in play here is who controls Kirkuk. When my teammates and I conducted our tribal study and social history in 2008, with in depth interviews of over 50 sheikhs, imams, political, and business leaders in central Iraq (predominantly from Mada’ain Qada, but also including interviewees from across Baghdad Province, and a few from Diyala and Wassit Provinces) Kurdish independence was only brought up by about five or six of our interview subjects. But when it was brought up we were told that any attempt to declare an independent Kurdistan, especially if the attempt included taking Kirkuk, would be unacceptable. We were specifically told by several sheikhs that this was one issue that would unite Sunni and Shi’a Iraqi Arabs and could lead to an Iraqi-Arab versus Iraqi-Kurdish civil war.
Baghdad launches Kirkuk offensive
with the Kurds still fighting ISIS on our behalf, now they have to fight Iraqishttps://t.co/BiOHBjq9qe
— michael adams (@mla1396) October 13, 2017
The Iraqi army launched an operation to retake Kurdish-held positions around the disputed oil city of Kirkuk on Friday amid a bitter row with the Kurds over a vote for independence last month.
A senior Kurdish official said thousands of heavily armed fighters had been deployed to resist the offensive “at any cost” and called for international intervention with the federal government in Baghdad to prevent the confrontation worsening.
The Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga have been key allies of the US-led coalition in its fight against the Islamic State (IS) group and the threat of armed clashes between them poses a major challenge for Western governments.
Ethnically divided but historically Kurdish-majority Kirkuk is one of several regions that peshmerga fighters took over from the Iraqi army in 2014 when the jihadists swept through much of northern and western Iraq.
Baghdad is bitterly opposed to Kurdish ambitions to incorporate the oil-rich province in its autonomous region in the north and has voiced determination to take it back.
Al Jazeera reports:
“Thousands of heavily armed peshmerga units are now completely in their positions around Kirkuk,” a top aide to KRG President Masoud Barzani posted on social media on Friday.
“Their order is to defend at any cost,” Hemin Hawrami wrote on Twitter.
The Iraqi Kurdish/Iraqi Arab civil war has begun. This was both predictable (see my September post) and preventable. No one was so naive as to think that the Iraqi Kurds would not declare independence when the fight against ISIS was over. Everyone knew it would happen. Doing it now was just strategically stupid. It will divert attention and resources allowing ISIS to regroup. It will provide openings for the Russian and Iranian backed Assad government to advance their interests. The US led coalition against ISIS is facing a strategic nightmare: a civil war among their host country allies.