Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 22nd 2014 Contents Among rolling wheat fields
with machine-gun fire rat-
tling in the distance, Kurdish
fighters patrol the new fron-
tier of their autonomous
region of northern Iraq,
dozens of miles from their official border. In
front of them are Islamic militants, behind
them is the Kurds newly captured prize,
stretches of oil-rich territory.
In Iraq s chaos, the Kurds are emerging as
significant winners; and their victories are fuel-
ing sentiment among their population to declare
As Sunni insurgents swept over a large chunk
of northern Iraq and barreled toward Baghdad
the past two weeks, Kurdish fighters known
as peshmerga seized territory of their own,
effectively expanding the Kurdish-run region
into areas it has long claimed. Most notably,
they grabbed the oil center of Kirkuk. And in
contrast to the Shiite-led government in Bagh-
dad, which is in turmoil, the Kurds are growing
more confident, vowing to increase oil sales
independent of the central government.
The gains have also brought the Kurds chal-
lenges barely imaginable just days ago. They
must defend a new, 620-mile (1,000 kilometre)
frontier against Sunni insurgents, led by an al-
Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant. Some 300,000 Iraqis who
fled the insurgent advance have flooded into
Kurdish areas, an extra burden to an already
cash-strapped autonomy government.
And the Kurds risk a backlash. In Kirkuk,
Sunni Arabs and ethnic Turkmens---who have
long opposed Kurdish claims over the city---
threaten a revolt if the Kurds don t share admin-
istration of the city and any oil revenues.
Still, the sense of exuberance is palpable
among Kurds, who make up 20 percent of
Iraq s mostly Arab population.
"Now that the peshmerga took back our
disputed areas, we should have our own coun-
try. We deserve it," said Khaled Ismail in the
Kurdish area of Khazer.
The 19-year-old student wants independence
so Kurdistan can sell its own oil and have the
status statehood brings like a passport, rep-
resentation internationally---and a national soc-
cer team. "If we had a Kurdish team in the
World Cup, it would be great," he said.
Another man pointed to the strength of the
peshmerga, who fought back against the insur-
gents in contrast to the troops of Shiite Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki s government, who
"The peshmerga and al-Maliki s army are
as different as the ground and the sky," said
59-year-old Ahmed Omar, wearing traditional
Kurdish baggy pants. He also wants statehood.
"We don t want other people to interfere in
However, declaring independence---and for-
mally fragmenting Iraq---is not easy. The United
States and neighboring Turkey oppose Kurdish
independence. And the Kurds can expect con-
stant clashes not just with insurgents but with
Iraqi forces as well if they unilaterally break
away and claim the areas they grabbed, said
Kurdish analyst Hiwa Osman. "If the Kurds
want true independence, (there) has to be a
treaty," he said.
Given that resistance, the Kurdish govern-
ment is pressing for even greater powers of
autonomy but not full independence.
The Kurds territorial grab is substantial.
The recognized Kurdish autonomous region---
defined as three northern provinces---effectively
expanded by 40 per cent, estimated Gareth
Stansfield, an expert on Kurdish affairs.
The peshmerga moved into territory all along
the edges of their region, from near the Rabia
border crossing into Syria in the northwest to
the city of Jalula in the southeast near the Iran-
The Kurds say the move was to protect those
areas when the military fled the insurgents
advance after the Islamic State captured the
northern city of Mosul on June 6.
But many of these areas have large Kurdish
communities that the Kurds have long demand-
ed be incorporated into their zone; making
them unlikely to give them up.
This week, the peshmerga patrolled the
frontline separating them from Sunni insur-
gents, along wheat fields in an area known as
Mula Abdula. The area is more than 30 miles
(50 kilometres) from the official Kurdish zone s
borders. The area was littered with bullet cas-
ings, and gunfire and the occasional thud of
a tank shell could be heard from fighting further
down the road.
Some 15 miles behind them, in Kurdish
hands, was Kirkuk and surrounding oil-rich
"It s by far the biggest field in the north,
and now the Kurds sit on top of it," Stansfield
The Kurdish autonomous zone has its own
oil resources, currently producing about
220,000 barrels a day, and it has long argued
with Baghdad over sharing revenues from that
oil. The Kurdish government in May sold oil
independently of the central government for
the first time, around 1.05 million barrels,
shipped out by their own pipeline to Turkey.
In retaliation, Baghdad stopped giving the
Kurds the proportion of the central budget
they are entitled to receive.
Safeen Dizayee, the Kurdish regional gov-
ernment spokesman, said the Kurds intend to
increase independent oil sales, aiming for
400,000 barrels a day.
"The more we can produce, the more we
will sell," he said.
He did not say whether they would take
the more provocative step of selling oil from
Kirkuk. Stansfield said it wouldn t be difficult
to pump Kirkuk s oil to the nearby capital of
the Kurdish zone, Irbil. If that happens, "the
geography of the oil industry could change
Such an explosive move would signal the
Kurds intention to keep Kirkuk, where they
have a large population. It would infuriate not
only Baghdad but other ethnic groups, Arabs
and Turkmen, who also live in Kirkuk and
claim it as their own.
On Kirkuk s edge, a leading Arab tribal elder
said heavily-armed men were waiting to see
if Kurds would share administration of the
city and its oil.
If not, "then we must have an uprising
against them," said Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-
Awaidi. "Nobody is stupid enough to give up
A leading Turkmen official said his com-
munity is also arming its men, partly to defend
against militants but also in case Kurds won t
share Kirkuk. "Turkmens need to defend them-
selves," said Arshad al-Salihi.
In a market on a Kirkuk street, men busily
bought weapons looted from abandoned army
bases. Nearby, Kurdish police patrolled in uni-
forms emblazoned with the colors of the Kur-
dish flag: red, white and green with the emblem
of a golden sun.
Further north, Kurdish officials are dealing
with 300,000 Iraqis who fled there the past
two weeks --- adding to 260,000 Syrian
refugees and Iraqis who fled earlier fighting
already in their areas.
"Kurdistan s doors are staying open and we
are offering all the help that we can," said
Falah Bakir, the Kurds top foreign policy offi-
Stansfield said the Kurds could cite the need
for funds to take care of refugees to convince
the West to consent to it selling oil independ-
ently of Baghdad.
And while the Kurdish administration says
it does not seek to break from Iraq, it clearly
feels that as the rest of the country falls apart,
it wants powers like selling oil that would
bring it to virtual statehood.
"We are not the ones who should be accused
of the disintegration of Iraq," said spokesman
Dizayee. "Others are helping to take Iraq in
that direction." AP
JUNE 22 • 2014 www.guardian.co.tt SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN
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