Huge news in Iraqi Kurdistan. Just huge.

Iraqi government endorses decision to relocate thousands of Arabs from Kirkuk

Iraq Updates:

The Iraqi government has endorsed a decision to relocate and compensate thousands of Arabs who moved to Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein’s campaign to push out the Kurds, an official said Saturday. The decision was a major step toward implementing a constitutional requirement to determine the status of the disputed oil-rich city by the end of the year.

To be honest, I had no idea that this idea had progressed so far. I actually mentioned the ‘Arabs in Kirkuk’ issue in conversation a couple of weeks ago, but I said that it was a knot that was going to have to be untangled in ten or fifteen years.

This is a huge boost for Kurds, particularly those who continue to hope for a semi-independent (or, for many, a totally independent) Kurdistan. Turkey, in particular, is concerned. If Turkish Kurds see Iraqi Kurds progressing toward even more autonomy and living well while doing it, they’re bound to want some of that freedom and wealth for themselves.

It’s also bound to rub a lot of folks the wrong way, especially those who might want a piece of the oil action in northern Iraq.

Kurds are seeking to incorporate the city, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, into their autonomous region, but the move is opposed by Arabs and Turkmen, backed by Turkey.

Iraq’s constitution calls for a separate referendum on Kirkuk’s future by the end of this year, but the opponents want to put off the vote _ worried about Kurdish dominance and more violence if the referendum were held and Kurds win. The relocation of Arab residents from Kirkuk would help the Kurds ensure a majority in favor of incorporating the city.

The justice minister, who heads the committee overseeing talks on Kirkuk’s status, said the relocations would be voluntary and those who move will be paid 20 million Iraqi dinars (about US$15,000) and given land in their hometowns.

The fact that this is (for now, at least) totally voluntary is very important. If we see Kurdish police evicting Arabs from their homes and kicking them out of the region, the Sunni insurgency will redouble its efforts and the civil war in Iraq, currently a low-level sectarian/guerrilla conflict, could finally explode into the full-on warfare we’ve all feared. The Sunnis could find themselves some new arms suppliers, for instance, if Turkey decides that the Iraqi Kurds cannot be allowed to rise.

Gotta say that Murdoc’s still a bit miffed about Turkey’s refusal to allow the 4th Infantry Division through into northern Iraq during the initial invasion, and that though Turkey is more or less a good friend, I’m not terribly sympathetic to their issues with the Kurds.

At the time, I was afraid that Turkey may actually be maneuvering to occupy Iraqi territory in what promised to be a very chaotic aftermath of our invasion from the south. Iraqi units would shift south toward Baghdad as we neared the capital, leaving things open for the Turks, who would be unopposed by a pesky US division. Turkey had announced that it may be “forced” to deploy troops into Iraq in order to keep their border secure, which many feared may be the precursor to an invasion.

Thankfully, things didn’t go down that road. I noted on March 26, 2003:

In a sudden reversal, Turkey announced it was not going to deploy troops into northern Iraq without “coordinating” with us. This WaPo article [link dead – here’s a new one] is mostly about the 173rd’s airdrop, but notice this near the middle:

After several days of mixed signals from Turkey’s political leaders, the chief of the Turkish armed forces said today that Turkey would coordinate any additional deployment of troops to northern Iraq with the United States, backing down from previous threats to send forces across the border over U.S. and Kurdish objections.

Thus endeth the possibility of the Great Turkish Landgrab. Or the Turk-Kurd War of ’03.

It’s interesting to look back at things written at the time of the invasion and to try to get into that frame of mind. That latter bit is the piece too many folks miss. They look back at news reports and punditry from four years ago and just say “how stupid…anyone could see how things were going to go” as if things are that simple. To honestly review what’s gone on before, it’s vital to take the thoughts and feelings of the period into strong consideration and base your conclusions upon them.

The 173rd’s airdrop wasn’t enough to “take over” much of northern Iraq like the 4th Division might have been able to, but it might have been enough to deter Turkey from doing anything really stupid at exactly the wrong time for us. Things are obviously a bit of a mess in Iraq and will continue to be for quite some time, but things could have been worse.

Thoughts on this (both the historical points and the current political situation)?


  1. Wow! That is HUGE news. I too thought the Kirkuk issue would take forever to resolve and would involve MUCH bloodshed. It’s interesting that the Iraqi Govt is willing to resettle. I wonder if the ‘potential’ affected pool is very large? O/T how did your new ‘poodle shooter’ work out? Have you posted any reviews? PS I like this comment ‘function’ so far. Hope it works.

  2. While I can’t criticise a voluntary relocation program too heavily, in many ways I think it’s best if they stay culturally and religiously mixed. The fact is, these people are going to have to learn to live with each other just like we (pretty much) have. Segregating them is not going to help that. Neither is chopping up the country into ethically ‘pure’ segments. On the other hand, Kurdistan is pretty ethnically homogenous and it’s doing pretty well. However, there are potentially other reasons for that. Just as there are many successful Arabs in Israel, I suspect there are some successful Arabs in Kurdistan who get along just fine. The trick is that all the people there seem to want to succeed, rather than just kill each other. Anyway.. I guess what I’m saying is that I think this type of action is not really a long-term solution. It might be a short-term one, though, and short-term stability could help the long-term reconciliation which is going to be necessary.