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Iraq's Kurdish Problem

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Over the space of the next 5-10 years, Iraq's political leaders must grapple with a series of deeply contentious issues that cut to the core of the design of the Iraqi state. Many of these divisive issues -- such as the division of powers between the central government and the regions, control over the oil and gas sector, and the future status of disputed territories in northern Iraq -- are intertwined, and relate in one way or another to the current and future status of the Kurds in Iraq. In the broadest sense, then, the "big picture" question facing Iraq is whether the Kurds can be comfortably accommodated within the new political order and, if so, how. Phrased another way, Can the Kurds' minimum requirements for continued participation in the state be satisfied in a way that is plausibly acceptable to the rest of Iraq?

Stripped down to bare essentials, to remain part of the Iraqi state, the Kurds need guarantees of autonomy and security, and on these two issues, Kurdish leaders cannot be expected to make major concessions. In the abstract, most Iraqi political leaders do not dispute this. The problem is not so much the principles involved, but how they have been translated into constitutional practice. The level of autonomy the Kurds enjoy according to the constitution is extensive. The Kurds can design their own system of government, conduct their own elections, control the management of oil and gas fields in their territory, and control their own internal security. ...

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