The Struggle Over Kirkuk Enters Its Decisive Phase

The Struggle Over Kirkuk Enters Its Decisive Phase

After the battles of Basra and Mosul, Iraq's territorial integrity now faces another severe challenge on the constitutional front. With the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq having initiated rounds of talks to save the north from a potential cross-border war, the struggle over the future status of the northern city of Kirkuk has entered its decisive phase. Failure could lead to the ultimate disintegration of Iraq.

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) currently enjoys constitutionally recognized authority over the three northern provinces of Erbil, Dohuk, and Sulaymaniyah. Yet it also enjoys de facto control over significant parts of Diyala, Kirkuk, and Niniveh, each with a substantial, if not majority, Kurdish population. The question of the final borders of the KRG is addressed in Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. Designed to reverse the ethnic cleansing of the Saddam era, it stipulates that Arab settlers be returned to the south, and provides that a census, and ultimately a referendum, be held in disputed areas.

Along the so-called "green line" that separates the Kurdish zone of influence from that of the Iraqi government, the oil rich city of Kirkuk proves the biggest bone of contention. While all three ethnic groups that were victims of Saddam's Arabization campaign -- Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrians -- see Kirkuk as the capital of their historic territories, the Kurds are the only group that has publicly pressed for a referendum. They see the incorporation of Kirkuk into the KRG as a means to right the wrongs of the past and a necessary precondition for national reconciliation.

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