April 1, 2007

Risky Business

The Iraqi government will start relocating Arabs from Kirkuk, where Saddam Hussein put them in an effort to dilute Kurdish claims to the city. The move could create a flash of ethnic violence, as the provenance of the oil-rich area has implications for Kurdish autonomy and the unity of Iraq as a nation:

The Iraqi government will soon begin relocating Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk under an edict by Saddam Hussein to force Kurds out of the disputed northern city, officials said Saturday.

The controversial step for the oil-rich city could help determine whether it becomes part of an autonomous Kurdish region, but critics warned that it would stoke sectarian tensions.

Iraq's cabinet on Thursday endorsed a committee's recent recommendation to compensate eligible Arabs who voluntarily leave the city, said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Those who choose to move will receive about $15,000 and a plot of land in their home town. Officials will soon accept applications to determine eligibility, he said.

The Kurds will vote on their policies towards autonomy in a Kirkuk referendum soon, and the relocation could help the pro-autonomy advocates win the election. That might create a problem with the Sunnis, who want Kirkuk within their sphere of influence in order to gain the oil revenues. The recent passage of legislation that shares oil revenue on a national basis may ease the loss of Kirkuk, but it will not eliminate the tension altogether.

Saddam Hussein conducted ethnic cleansing against the Kurds in several ways. He gassed the residents of Halabja in the most infamous of his campaigns, but he conducted more subtle operations, too. He destroyed thousands of Kurd villages and drove them into the moutains. Saddam also transplanted Shi'ites from the south to Kirkuk, an effort that had a dual payoff. He could dilute the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ites in the south in one fell swoop, and at the same time set the Kurds and Shi'ites against each other in the competition for land in Kirkuk.

The latest effort by the Shi'ite-dominated government has not gone without its consequences. The Justice Minister resigned his post Thursday after the approval of the plan to offer voluntary relocation. Ayad Allawi, a Shi'ite but secular in his outlook, has tried to garner a new governing coalition to replace Nouri al-Maliki, but so far with little success. The Arabs in Kirkuk, who have been there now for years, staged public protests that could destabilize the security situation there eventually.

Maliki's plan makes sense, at least theoretically. The government will provide financial incentives for Arabs to voluntarily move back to their home towns. Those incentives appear rather significant; $15,000 goes a long way in Iraq, and the plot of land would be very valuable in a nation that now recognizes private property, depending on its size. The question for the Arabs is how "voluntary" this program will become, especially with the Kurdish security forces in the region ready to enforce a government policy they enthusiastically support. Many of them have married into the local culture, and a forced relocation would tear apart their families.

It's a difficult situation, and Maliki shows some courage and confidence in addressing it now. If the Iraqi government can deliver on this plan without any large-scale violence breaking out in Kirkuk, they will have shown some real mettle and perhaps the most significant independent governing to date. If it doesn't work, Maliki will have a meltdown on his hands.


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Comments (3)

Posted by Dennis Clark [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 1, 2007 10:12 AM

Please understand that even th eNew York Times knows that we have found Oil in Al Anbar.

read "....Now, however, it appears that the Sunnis may have more resources than first thought. The New York Times reports that Western engineers have discovered significant fields of oil and natural gas in Anbar:

In a remote patch of the Anbar desert just 20 miles from the Syrian border, a single blue pillar of flanges and valves sits atop an enormous deposit of oil and natural gas that would be routine in this petroleum-rich country except for one fact: this is Sunni territory.

Huge petroleum deposits have long been known in Iraq’s Kurdish north and Shiite south. But now, Iraq has substantially increased its estimates of the amount of oil and natural gas in deposits on Sunni lands after quietly paying foreign oil companies tens of millions of dollars over the past two years to re-examine old seismic data across the country and retrain Iraqi petroleum engineers.....
The problem with Hope is that no onw wants to talk about it.

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 1, 2007 4:08 PM

The arabs in Kirkuk are hesitant to leave the relative safety of Kirkuk to go live in the more violent regions of Iraq. Jobless rates are also higher outside of Kurdistan. Another problem facing Kirkuk is that the Turkomen minority has vowed violence if the vote goes to join Kurdistan. Their leader claims he has thousands of volunteers to carry out suicide bombings. Turkey has also warned against any kind of ethnic cleansing against their ethnic Turkish brothers in Kirkuk. Think elections were racous in Chicago under Boss Daley? This vote will ignite passions on all sides.

Posted by crosspatch [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 2, 2007 12:57 AM

"If the Iraqi government can deliver on this plan without any large-scale violence breaking out in Kirkuk, they will have shown some real mettle and perhaps the most significant independent governing to date. If it doesn't work, Maliki will have a meltdown on his hands."

If the Kurds are able to recreate in Kirkuk the economic miracle that Irbil has witnessed, then things might work out. Irbil is providing an environment for an economic boom that is benefiting people of all ethic and sectarian backgrounds. A spreading of that to Kirkuk would serve as a model and an expansion of an oasis of peace and prosperity. As more people experience that, more will grow tired of the fighting and realize they need to get busy lest they be left behind economically by the booming Kurds.