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 Intractability and the struggle for the eternal fire of Kirkuk

 Opinion — Analysis 
  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


Intractability and the struggle for the eternal fire of Kirkuk ‎ 12.7.2012 
By Saed Kakei

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Saed Kakei, Ph.D. Student, Nova Southeastern University’s Department of Conflict Analysis & Resolution – PhD Program
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July 12, 2012

By: Saed Kakei, Ph.D. Student
Nova Southeastern University, Department of Conflict Analysis & Resolution, Ph.D. Program


This paper examines the intractability of the conflict between the Kurds, Arabs, and the Turkmens of Iraq over the “disputed” identity of the Governorate of Kirkuk in Iraq. The paper is divided into four sections. The first section explains the concept of intractability and the causes that make a conflict to be intractable. The second section is a linear historical account for the Kirkuk dilemma and how the politically motivated demographic fluctuations have been deepening the wider conflict involving the world’s largest stateless Kurdish nation and the violent neighborhood of Middle Eastern states. In so doing, policies of Turkification and Arabization of Kirkuk will be discussed and how they contributed to the complexity of this intractable conflict. The third section analyzes post-2003 Iraq’s constitutional solution for the “disputed territories” and why the concept of compromise is not a viable method for resolving not only the Kirkuk impasse but also the greater intrastate Kurdish conflict. The last section of this paper argues that a thorough understanding of the forces that have caused this dilemma is required to demonstrate that these forces can be overcome through conscious appeals to uphold the provisions of the Iraqi constitution.

1.0 Introduction

The Governorate of Kirkuk spans the strategic trade routes between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. However, the discovery of vast quantities of oil in 1926 led the Great Britain to annex Kirkuk and the former Ottoman Wilayet (province) of Mosul—of which the Kirkuk region was part of—to the newly created state of Iraq. This colonial annexation, negotiated under the depictions of the League of Nations, is considered as the main reason for failure to become a successful state. Dashing the Kurdish aspirations for an independent nation-state a year after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, benefited no one in the region but the puppets of the western colonial powers and their subsequent imperialist powers. Unlike the natural resources of the developed world used for the welfare of the constituencies, the proceeds of Kirkuk oil have been used for nothing but total destructions, particularly after 1963 during which continuous crimes against humanity and genocide committed in the name of national unity, territorial integrity, and oppression. Why?

The past nine decades of Kurdish history speaks chilling volumes of bloodshed perpetrated by various state and non-state actors baring religious, ethnic, and imaginary nationalist identities. Yet, despite ruthless assimilation policies and identity denials with means of collective exterminations, chemical

gassing, and genocide in all parts of Kurdistan, the roughly four millions of Kurds in 1923 are now estimated to be about forty millions all over the world. Their relentless dedications and endless sacrifices to see the day when their national flag flies high among the close to two hundred sovereign and independent nation-states, is fascinating the most naïve let alone the most cerebral individual on this earth.

Crocker, Hampson and Aall begin their introductory paragraph to their edited book “Grasping the Nettle: Analyzing cases of intractable conflict” by noting that: “In the minds of many the end of the Cold War was supposed to halt the torrent of conflict that characterized the twentieth century, the bloodiest century in history. Instead, it unleashed or unmasked a dozen conflicts in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America” (2005, p. 3). Then, by naming some long conflicts, they refer to them as “intractable, protracted, self-sustaining, deep-rooted, [and] the product of ancient hatreds” (2005, p. 4). Just as many western scholars prefer using the term colonialism over imperialism, these scholars have agreed to use the fancy term of “intractable” over the many other terms referring to the “long-lasting” conflicts. Therefore, for the intended purpose of this paper, I will briefly summarize the meaning, causes and typologies of intractable conflict.

1.1 Defining intractable conflict

Crocker, Hampson and Aall explain that between the years of 2001 and 2003, the United States Institute of Peace has brought twenty-five academics and expert practitioners together who agreed on a very general definition of the term “intractable.” Initially, this group of scholars and practitioners accepted that intractable “is often understood to refer to a conflict that is unresolvable rather than one that resists resolution” (2005, p. 5). But, after accommodating some inevitable psychological concerns, the group agreed in general terms that: “intractable conflicts are conflicts that have persisted over time and refused to yield to efforts—through either direct negotiations by the parties or mediation with third-party assistance—to arrive at a political settlement” (2005, p. 5).

1.2 Causes and typologies of intractability

Roy Licklinder (2005) stresses the fact that intractable conflicts require the initial understanding that sources of intractability are different from the causes of the conflict. Once started, conflicts act like a magnet pulling various elements of the same blend into an ugly asymmetric formation often in terms of war, “which in turn is defined in terms of substantial human casualties (Licklinder, 2005, p. 33). Certainly, the intractable conflict over the political status of the Kirkuk governorate has witnessed at least three devastating intrastate wars in the second half of the twentieth century. Yet, despite the 2005 Iraqi constitutional bindings to peacefully solve this presently “frozen conflict,” parties, especially outsiders such as Turkey, Iran, and the United States have a great deal of influence over when and how this conflict needs to be tilted.

The role of the outsiders in the intractability of the Kirkuk conflict has a lot to do with the geopolitics and the strategic location it occupies in present-day Iraq. The diamond-shaped Kirkuk governorate lies between the Zagros Mountains in the north-east, the Lower Zab and the Tigris Rivers in the north-west and west, the Hamrin Mountain range in the south-west, and the Diyala River in the south-east.

Major trade routes pass through or touch on the borders of the Kirkuk Region. To safeguard these commercial and strategic crossings, Ottoman military forts were established in the nearby cities of Kifri, Tuz-Khurmatu, Daquq, Perdé as well as within Kirkuk city itself. The city of Kirkuk has served the area as its major hub since the beginning of the 17th century (Talabany, 2000, p. 8).

Demographically, the Kirkuk governorate is home to several ethnically diverse communities. Historically, it has been well established that the Kurds constitute the overwhelming majority of its 2009 United Nations’ (UN) estimated population of 1.2 million people. Next to the Kurds, Turkmens are the second largest ethnic group followed by Arabs, Caldo-Assyrian Christians, and some insignificant numbers of Armenians and Mandaeans. As such, Kirkuk lies on the borderline between the larger Kurdish and Arab civilizations. The power struggle over this intractable conflict has produced five combined internal characteristics. I. William Zartman identifies these elements as “protracted time, identity denigration, conflict profitability, absence of ripeness, and solution polarization” (Zartman, 2005, p. 48). Each one of these characteristics is clearly visible in the conflict over Kirkuk as we will explore them in the overall context of this paper.

The geopolitics of Kirkuk is fixed in a complex set of relationships in which “it is structural and external to the conflict rather than internal and process related” (2005, p. 56). In other words, the multilayered conflict in Kirkuk has attracted not only regional powers to muddle in its deep-rotted sensitive affairs, but also enticed the United States to play a major role in freezing it temporarily to be transformed according to its strategic national interests in the Middle East.

Obviously, the structural complexity of the Kirkuk conflict has to do a lot with what Michael Brown calls “bad leaders” because of their involvement in deep-rooted identity and economic grievances “as well as considerable amount of war profiteering by representatives of one group or another” (Crocker, Hampson, and Aall, 2005, p. 6). Inherently, such “bad” state and non-state actors inflame their constituencies to produce a zero-sum polarization so that a magnified grievances amalgamated into each party’s account of historical claims (2005, p. 7). This is clearly evident in the actions of the bad Arab, Turkmen, and some of the Kurdish leaders directly engaged in the intractability of the Kirkuk conflict.
Finally, it is worth mentioning in this section of the paper that although the Kirkuk intractable conflict seems to be mainly an intrastate conflict, it certainly has incited at least indirectly the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran. Also, prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it was an active intractable conflict. However, as mentioned before, since the Iraqi constitutional referendum in October of 2005, it has become an abeyant intractable conflict waiting to be flared up if the Iraqi central government continues to deploy and play by games such as the two-level faction-traction, delivery dilemmas, worn-out salient solutions, and insurmountable risks (2005, pp. 18-21).

2.0 A brief history of Kirkuk and its geography

The governorate of Kirkuk and its capital city, also called Kirkuk, were known as Ara'pha to the ancient cultures and as Karkha d’beth Silokh to the classical world (Talabany, 2000, p.7). To Persia’s Sasanid Empire, this was their western Kurdish province of Garmian, meaning the “warm places” (Anderson & Stansfield, 2009, p. 14). This historic name still survives for the region in the common folk language, while the thirteenth century Seljuk name of Kirkuk is reserved for the city alone.

During the years of conflict between the Shi’ite Safavid Empire and the Sunni Ottoman Empire, the region of Kirkuk in particular, and Kurdistan in general, became a constant battleground (Amin Zaki, 1961, p. 164). Kirkuk’s strategic location and ethnic composition led to its changing hands many times and suffering a great deal of damage (1961, p. 166). Speaking of the city’s ethnic composition, by the end of nineteenth century, the Ottoman encyclopedic, Shamsadin Sami, states in his seminal work of Qamusl al A’ala'm (Encyclopedia of the World) that “[t]hree quarters of the inhabitants are Kurds and the rest are Turkmen, Arabs, and others. After visiting the city of Kirkuk, he estimated the population to be between 12 and 15 thousand, all Kurds except for 40 Armenian families” (2000, p. 8).

To better control the region, the Ottomans encouraged their more loyal Turkic subjects and military personnel to settle in the cities and towns—of Tel Afar and Mosul in the north, Arbil, Kirkuk and Kifri in central north and Khanaqin and Mandali on the present Iraq-Iran borders—which dotted the trade routes in the Mosul Wilayet. According to Talabany, the Iraqi historian Abdul-Razzaq Al-Hassani had asserted that the Turkmens of this troubled region are “a part of the forces of Sultan Murat IV who recaptured Iraq from the Safavid Persians in 1638 and remained in these parts to protect this route between the southern and northern Ottoman Wilayets” (Al-Hassani, 1956 cited in Talabany, 2000, p. 11).

Many Turkmen military personnel who settled permanently in the above Kurdish cities, subsequently became the primary elements for executing the nineteenth century Ottoman Turkification policy along the trade routes as mentioned before (2009, p. 18). However, once the British occupation of Iraq began in 1918, many Turkish families had either fled to present-day Turkey, or declared themselves some as Arabs and others as indigenous Kurds. To that end, the official Iraqi census of 1957, which is considered to be accurate, reveals that Turkmens made up 21.4% of the total Kirkuki population. However, this percentage decreased in later censuses partly because the Iraqi regime deliberately muddled the ethnicity of the Turkmens and classed many of them as Arabs. By the time of the 1997 census, the Turkmen share of the Kirkuki population was recorded as 7% (2009, p.43).

2.1 The Arabization of Kirkuk

The City of Kirkuk has been known to have oil long before the Ottoman occupation of Kurdistan. In fact, its “eternal fire” known as “Baba Gurgur” has been incorporated into Kakeyi’s sub-Zoroastrian religious mythologies since the eighth century. Nonetheless, the systematic and organized exploitation of the Kirkuk oil fields only began seven years after the British occupation of Iraq in 1918. Whether or not the initial intention of the colonial Britain in the aftermath of the World War I was to help the minorities of the defeated Ottoman Empire to establish their own nation-states, the discovery of vast oil reserves in Kurdistan led to a fundamental change in British policy towards the Kurdish self-determination issue.

At first, there was a tendency among some British officers to favor the creation of a Kurdish state. Kurds were hopeful to see the implementation of the Treaty of Sevres, signed on August 10, 1920 in which a promise of creating an independent Kurdistan was made in accordance with articles 62 and 64 of

the treaty (2004, p. 139). Meanwhile, the British Mandated Iraq organized a referendum in 1921 on the accession of the non-Iraqi Jordanian Prince Faisal bin Hussein as king of the new state of Iraq. This accession caused a great deal of disturbances in southern Kurdistan, especially in the Suleimani and Rawanduz regions (McDowall, 2004, p 137). Eventually, because of the French defeat in Cilicia on the one hand, and the growing alliance of the Russian Bolsheviks with the resisting Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara on the other hand, Britain and its allies dropped their earlier promise to the Kurds. Consequently, wide spread insurrection threatened the presence of British forces in Kurdistan. As such, Britain reversed its earlier enforced detention of Sheikh Mahmoud of Suleimani region and brought him back from Kuwait in mid-September 1922 to be reappointed as the President of the Kurdish Council in Suleimani (2004, p. 161).

Needless to say more, the British colonial tactics of “divide-and-rule” was successful in limiting Sheikh Mahmoud’s influence to the Suleimani region, whereas the governorates of Mosul, Erbil, and Kirkuk were lured to accept a limited form of autonomy conditioned by agreeing to the suggestions made by the League of Nations’ demarcation commission on the disputed status of southern Kurdistan between Turkey, Britain, and Iraq, particularly after the 1923 Lausanne treaty which completely aborted the idea of a separate Kurdish state. Accordingly, Kirkuk along with the rest of southern Kurdistan became a loose part of the Iraqi kingdom after the League of Nations’ declaration on 16 December, 1924 that all the land below the “Brussels Line” (the current Iraqi-Turkish border) should be incorporated into Iraq (2000, p. 20).

Ever since, successive Iraqi governments tried with varying degrees of intensity not only to combat the Kurdish resistance movement, but also to change the ethnic composition of Kirkuk region. From the outset and under the pretexts of oil production and megaprojects of irrigation systems in Kirkuk, the Iraqi central governments brought large numbers of Arabs and pro-British Assyrian workers from other parts of Iraq to work and permanently be settled there (2000, p. 21). Yet, although they retained a simple majority in the city of Kirkuk and a large majority in the governorate, Kurds grew in resentment because so few of them were employed by the Anglo-Iraqi oil company. This influx of outside labors expanded in 1935 when the Iraqi government embarked on settling Arab tribes in the fertile plains of the Hawija district in southwestern governorate of Kirkuk (2000, p. 24). This marked the beginning of the process of Arabization which gradually increased until the toppling of the Iraqi monarch system on 14 July, 1958.

Thereafter, for a period of three years, Kirkuk became the main point of disagreement between Kurdish negotiators and their Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad. Under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani, Kurds demanded that Kirkuk must be part of the autonomous talks with Baghdad. However, the Iraqi side refused to accommodate that demand. Consequently, Mustafa Barzani left Baghdad to Kurdistan preparing to fight the central government forces. In retaliation, government forces began bombarding the strongholds of the Kurdish Peshmerga (freedom fighter) forces in September 1961. Since then, Mustafa Barzani’s famous line “Kerkuk Dili Kurdistane”, meaning Kirkuk is the heart of Kurdistan, became a rallying popular slogan for the Kurdish resistance. Meanwhile, the Arabization process of Kirkuk was renewed and lasted until the first Ba’athist pan-Arab coup d’état of February 8, 1963.

The resumption of the fighting over Kirkuk began in June 1963. This time, the Arabization of Kirkuk intensified to include the deportation of Kurdish families associated not only with Peshmerga forces, but also anyone who was affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Mustafa Barzani. Among the many measures taken by the pan-Arab Ba’athists were the destruction of Kurdish towns and villages and the demolition of Kurdish neighborhoods in the cities of Kirkuk, Daquq, Tuz-Khurmatu, Kirfi, and Khanaqin near the borderline that separates Kurdistan from Iraq. From there, the Arabization policy became a well-established ethnic cleansing tool and used by subsequent Iraqi governments until the second Ba’athist coup d’état in July 1968.

2.2 Saddam Hussein’s Kurdish ethnic cleansing policy

The Ba’ath Party’s return to power in yet another military coup on July 17, 1968, had given Saddam Hussein an unprecedented power. Throughout his negotiation rounds with the KDP elites that lasted until March 1974, Hussein utilized various levels of negotiations encompassing games such as two-level tactics, faction-traction problems, delivery dilemmas, and most importantly the deployment of the insurmountable risks that led the KDP elites to embrace secessionist thoughts.

At first, beginning with the promise to concede Kurdish rights to govern Kirkuk, Hussein was able to strike an autonomous deal with Mustafa Barzani. The March 11th Autonomy Agreement of 1970 stipulated that all cities and towns of Iraq with a simple Kurdish majority would become part of the Kurdish autonomy region. However, because of Turkey’s objections to this deal, the Iraqi government backed off of its promises with a new power sharing scheme over the Kirkuk governorate and the Khanaqin distric in the Diyala governorate to the East of Kirkuk. Meanwhile, Iran was not happy to see the Kurds achieving anything at all. Therefore, backed by the United States, Mohammad Riza Shah of Iran encouraged Mustafa Barzani not to accept any amendments to the 1970 Autonomy Agreement.

Trapped in this multilayer game-play of nations, and not recognizing his lack of diplomatic experience and non-mastery of negotiations, Mustafa Barzani was easily duped not only by the Shah of Iran, but also by the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Explaining the dirty role of the United States in the disastrous end of the 1974-75 Kurdish revolution, Kissinger callously responded that “covert action should not be confused with missionary work” (Blum, 2003, p. 244).

Consequently, over 200,000 Kurdish refugees ended up to be treated miserably by Iran, half of which were from the Kirkuk governorate. As most of them were forced to return to Iraq, the Ba’athist regime deported them to southern Iraqi marshlands to be assimilated there. Also, aside from appointing Ba’athist Arabs as governors of Kirkuk with wide and extraordinary powers to ethnically cleanse the Kurds of Kirkuk, Saddam’s authorized the use of extreme measures to execute his ethnic cleansing policy which included among other things transferring non-Ba’athist Kurds to areas outside the Kirkuk and replacing them with southern Iraqi as well as Palestinian Arabs. The transferred Kurds were barred from returning to Kirkuk (2000, p. 35). Then, aside from changing the names of Kurdish neighborhoods, streets, schools and markets to Arabic, wide streets and boulevards were constructed in Kurdish neighborhoods with laughable compensation to those who were effected by. Also, Kurds were forbidden to sell their properties in Kirkuk except to Arabs, and were prevented from buying homes or renovating their existing homes and properties under any circumstance (Ali, 2008, pp. 54-6). In addition, various charges, threats and intimidations were applied against many Kurds and Shia Turkmens to force them leave the governorate and then confiscate their homes and properties. Many Kurds were arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, and put to their death (2008, p. 66). Furthermore, the Ba’athist regime detached four of the seven districts of the Kirkuk governorate and attached them to the neighboring governorates in order to reduce the status of the Kurds to a mere minority. In addition, the regime changed the name of the Kirkuk governorate to Al-Ta’mim, meaning “nationalization” to seal the second phase of the Arabization process. While doing that, the Ba’athists went on systematically destroying hundreds of Kurdish villages and counties. The entire populations of these villages were placed in concentration camps located in other counties, districts and governorates. These innocent villagers barely had the means to survive and were kept under constant government surveillance. Indeed, these tightly controlled camps were a grim reminder of those run by the Nazis Germany during the World War II. They had all been given Arab names such as “Al-Sumud,” “Al-Quds,” and “Al-Qadissiyah,” (Talabany, 2000; McDowall, 2004; Ali, 2008; Anderson & Stansfield, 2009).

Following the 1991 mass Kurdish uprising in Iraq, the government forcibly expelled over 120,000 Kurds, Turkmens, and Assyrians from their homes in Kirkuk governorate. Throughout the 1990s entire families belonging to these ethnic minorities have been obliged to relocate, leaving behind virtually all their possessions, properties, and means of livelihood. Most of them sought refuge in the Kurdish controlled governorates of Duhok, Erbil and Suleimani. A smaller number were relocated to Iraqi government-controlled areas in central and southern Iraq. This systematic forcible transfer of Kurds and others was the last phase of the Arabization of Kirkuk region (OLeary, 2008, p. 2).

3.0 The Kirkuk impasse in post-2003 Iraq

After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, many Kurds returned to Kirkuk getting back their homes and properties left behind by the escaped Arab settlers. Others are still waiting to claim back their titles which are stranded with delivery dilemmas orchestrated by hardline Arab nationalists working in Baghdad for the pro-Iranian government of Iraq.

Following the invasion and the subsequent removal of the Ba’athist regime from power, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was formed to reconstruct Iraq. From May 2003 to June 2004, the CPA was able to draw a peaceful resolution for the status of Kirkuk and the other disputed Kurdish areas. According to article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), the CPA recognized profound demographic and boundary manipulations done by the Ba’athist regime which transgressed human rights, political rights and the rights of nationalities and ethnic minorities. It proposed measures to rectify these “expeditiously” injustices. However, the CPA and the subsequent Iraqi transitional government (June 28 2004-January 31 2005) failed to deliver their promises on excuses of heightened insurgency and the regional interference on the one hand, and the questionable legitimacy of the TAL written by an internationally recognized occupation authority on the other (OLeary, 2008, p. 3).

As it stands now, this was a faction-traction game by which the government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi played it well to gain popularity among the Sunni Arabs of Kirkuk. To off-set these games, leading Kurdish negotiators threated to boycott his government and pullout of the US efforts to secure and reconstruct Iraq simultaneously. Kurdish as well as Arab Shia makers of Iraq’s permanent constitution reemphasized the political status of the governorate of Kirkuk, and the other disputed territories, in Article 140 which stipulates a referendum to be scheduled by the end of December 2007 so that Kirkuki voters could decide if they want to join the autonomous region of Kurdistan or not. Despite little progress, unfortunately, the elected 2006 government of Iraq, led by the Arab Shia Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jafari, became entangled with Turkey’s demand to play by the delivery dilemma game. Hence, the prospective referendum affecting the status of Kirkuk governorate was postponed for six months, until the summer of 2008 (OLeary, 2008, p. 1). Once again, Kurdish lawmakers were quick to spoil Turkey’s interferences in Iraq’s domestic politics by demanding the removal of Al-Jafari from power. After intense negotiations, the Shia majority agreed to replace Al-Jafari with Nuri Al-Maliki who, at the time, was deputy of Al-Jafari’s Islamic Aldawa Party. Interestingly, Al-Maliki’s acceptance of replacing Al-Jafari let to the split of the Aldawa Party into two factions. Publically, Al-Maliki’s faction of the Aldawa Party blames the Kurds for its fraction. Hence, Al-Maliki is reluctant to cooperate with the Kurds.

For now, although the obligation to fulfill Article 140 remains a constitutional imperative, the intractable conflict over Kirkuk, though still remains abeyant, it may be flared up again at any moment. This is due in part to Al-Maliki’s bit to “have it all” or the absolute grip of power which has clearly been visible since the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq in December 2011. As for the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani, Mustafa Barzani’s son, he has been growing in frustrations with Al-Maliki’s reluctance to make good on his constitutional obligations. In fact, on the eve of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year—21st March 2012, Masoud Barzani accused Al-Maliki of dictatorial intent and wondered: “Where in the world can the same person be the prime minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the minister of defense, the minister of interior, the chief of intelligence and the head of the national security council?” (Kurdistan Tribune, 2012).

4.0 Compromise or critical thinking: which way out to a peaceful solution?

At this height of tensions between the antagonists, what is the predictable outcome? If it is negative, how could it be changed to positive by which the non-negotiable needs of all parties to the Kirkuk conflict be met? This section attempts to respond to these and other related concerns.

From a Kurdish perspective, the return of Kirkuk and the other disputed territories to the autonomous region of Kurdistan constitute one of the principle requirements to form a “unique” identity for the Kurdish nation within the territorial integrity of the state of Iraq. As provided earlier, throughout their modern

Iraqi history, Kurds have been engaging in on-again off-again fighting with the consecutive governments of Iraq, mainly, because of their consistently non-negotiable demand to govern Kirkuk. They believe that their Iraqi constitutional right and obligations must not be compromised, especially the well overdue referendum on the status of the disputed territories including the normalization (de-Arabization) of Kirkuk.

Conversely, it seems that the Iraqi government is not aware of the fact that dishonoring the Kurdish demands to uphold their constitutional rights would legally empower them to establish their own well overdue nation-state. Seeking or pressurizing the Kurds for more concessions and compromises on their non-negotiable needs is nothing but more of the same old delivery dilemmas. Last but not least, Kurds have repeatedly been asserting that their acceptance of the Iraqi identity and their commitment to uphold the Iraqi constitution leaves no room for any sorts of compromise. The Kurds, more than anybody else, recognize that the current geopolitics of the Middle East will not accommodate the establishment of a Kurdish state and it would remain as such for as long as the authoritarian mindsets dominate the region. Hence, the Iraqi Arab claims of Kurdish conspiracy similar to that of the Israeli Jewish conspiracy in the region are laughably speculative. Rather, Iraqi Arabs need to appreciate the already demonstrated Kurdish eagerness to rid Iraq and the rest of the Middle East the troubles associated with the nationalist secessionism. The Iraqi Arabs’ token of appreciation would be best if they reverse the Arabization policies of Baghdad and honor their constitutional obligations so that their Kurdish country-partners enjoy governing themselves democratically within the federal state of Iraq.

4.1 What is the next in the Iraqi tinderbox?

While Al-Maliki is trying to pick arm-twists with Kurdish leaderships, KRG officials are preparing to have a possible showdown in the disputed territories, including the governorate of Kirkuk. If the heightening tension between the KRG and the Al-Maliki government is not subsiding soon; and, if the international community is not actively encouraging Baghdad for the implementation of Article 140, then a bloody armed conflict would be inevitable.

If Article 140 remains practically difficult to be implemented, then Al-Maliki needs to layout his best alternative solution that would be acceptable to the Kurds. Respectively, the US government as well as the UN needs to “step in and propose a solution that addresses all sides’ core concerns without crossing their existential red lines” (ICG: 2006). For example, the reversal of all Arabization abuses by previous regimes in the disputed areas so their population can decide either to join the KRG or remain within their respective governorates; an equitable federated “city-power-sharing” limited to the boundaries of the City of Kirkuk; and the accession of former Kirkuk districts—where Kurds constituted the majority of the population according to the 1957 census—by the KRG.

Regionally, the US needs to exert more pressure on Turkey not to interfere with Iraq’s internal affairs, especially with regard to the Kirkuk issue. Furthermore, the US government needs to work harder in its isolation policies toward Iran and Syria. A regionally contained Iran and an urgently needed regime change in Syria will ensure greater stability in the Middle East. Isolating Iran and democratizing Syria non-violently will lead to a successful and stable democratic Iraq. Failure by the US and the UN to act decisively may lead to a rapid deterioration of the already charged situation. The result would be a violent intrastate conflict, spreading civil war and, possibly, regional military interventions. Finally, it is doubtful that the post-2003 Iraq would survive yet another major bloodshed in its oil-rich areas where large Iraqi diverse communities do live.


This paper examined the intractable conflict in Kirkuk. First, it has provided a definition for intractable conflict along with causes and some typologies of intractable conflict. Then, it went on exploring some historical and geopolitical issues as factors causing contributing to the conflict in Kirkuk. The second section of the paper explained how the Ottoman Turkification and the subsequent Iraqi Arabization policies entrenched the conflict to the point of active intractable conflict, especially during the pre-2003 Iraqi authoritarian era. The third section has examined the post-2003 Iraq with constitutional commitments to resolve the abeyant intractable conflict of Kirkuk and the other disputed territories. Also, it has expounded on the challenges facing the constitutional solution that may transfer the conflict to an active intractable conflict in the absence of any real progress. The last section has emphasized the role of critical thinking in consciously predicting what might happen if an abeyant intractable conflict transforms into an active intractable conflict.

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Saeed Kakeyi, Ph.D. Student, Nova Southeastern University’s Department of Conflict Analysis & Resolution – PhD Program,
a longtime contributing writer and columnist for

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