War over oil and wealth in Iraq

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By Fatih Abdulsalam

Azzaman, November 29, 2012

U.S. occupation troops have left the country more than a year ago and the Iraqis thought their departure should improve conditions. In fact that is what almost everybody had expected.

But the country is still mired in a deep political crisis that hinges over authority and wealth. It will be unwise to say that the Americans have nothing to blame because they did not only exacerbate conditions in the country but sowed the seeds of divisions in it.

The Americans are no longer in the country but they have left behind a legacy and a mentality based on the concept of ‘trinity’ – Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Sunni Kurds.  This notion of dividing into three in relation to almost everything, which the Americans were so fond of, has become the root cause for the troubles the country is confronting.

Iraq’s crises are probably too many to count, but let us focus on one of the thorniest issues namely the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to add it to their semi-independent enclave in the north – a move the central government in Baghdad rejects.

The national army has no influence within the Kurdish region which has its own constitution and government. This in theory and practice means central government troops cannot deploy along the Turkish borders because the fall within the administrative areas of the Kurdish regional government.

In practice and under these conditions Iraq has no borders with Turkey. The only geographical contact with Ankara is through the Iraqi Kurdish region. In case of a crisis or a problem with Turkey, Iraq is not a neighboring state as it does not control the borders.

If we take the latest tensions between Baghdad and Ankara and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s critical remarks of the Iraqi government, accusing it of taking the country to civil war – a reference to recent government moves to assert its authority.

There is big confusion and lack of clarity in Ankara’s attitude vis-à-vis Baghdad, particularly in regard to whether Turkey was still with the idea of Kirkuk being administratively linked to Baghdad and not the Kurdish region.

The understanding is that Turkey is against the expansion of Kurdish frontiers in Iraq to include Kirkuk but at the same time the Turkish authorities are warming up to the Kurdish regional government.

One wonders whether the Turks are driven by their policies in Syria or their apparent support for the fugitive Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi who fled to Turkey and is now sentenced to death in Iraq on terrorism charges.

Kirkuk does not look to be an Iraqi issue. There are regional and probably international hands in the current crisis between Baghdad and Arbil, the seat of the Kurdish regional government.

The solution to the issue of Kirkuk should be internal. Therefore, it is important for the sides to talk and arrive at a solution without regional or international interference, a target many now see as a far-fetched dream.