Kirkuk and Kurdish Politics
"The protests, which are still ongoing, have not only unleashed populations' pent-up frustrations with the KRG-party apparatus but also have reinforced fractures in Kurdish politics and society. While most Kurdish populations seek political reform, only those in Sulaimani have had the opportunity and interest to openly challenge KRG and Barzani family power. Political polarization between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was made evident after the PUK refused the deployment of KDP militia into Sulaimani, which attempted to quell a situation that its KRG partner has proven unable to manage.
"New fissures also have emerged between the KRG and its challengers -- Kurdish populations it now refers to as 'Those Who Do Not Love Kurdistan'. In fact, the entire opposition movement and protests have become highly politicized as old party feuds over leadership and control are intertwined with demands for real political reform. While the KDP and PUK accuse the opposition group, Goran, and demonstrators for being disloyal to Kurdish nationalism, Islamic parties that have joined the protestors in Sulaimani have permitted their mullahs to give sermons referring to the demonstrations as 'a jihad against the KRG'. These political tensions have widened the Badinani-Soran rift, or the geographical polarizations between regions, that has evolved alongside the aggrandizement of Barzani-family power and weakening of the PUK since 2006, making the possibility of a truly unified Kurdish government unlikely."
This, I suspect, is a critical context for the KRG's aggressive moves around Kirkuk:
"On February 25, Arabs and Turkomans planned to protest in Kirkuk against corruption and unemployment. The Kurds believed that these protests would lead to attacks against them and sought to preempt the protests. Therefore, two days earlier, Dr. Najmaldin O. Karim, until recently a prominent spokesman for the Kurds in the United States and now a member of Iraqi parliament from the Kirkuk region, told a press conference in Baghdad that '[Arab] chauvinists were planning to destabilize Kirkuk during the protests' (Kurd Net, March 3). Khalid Shwani, another Kurdish MP from Kirkuk, claimed that the Arab Political Council planned to attack numerous Kurdish administrative and security offices. The following day 8500 to 12,000 heavily-armed peshmerga, including crack units of the Zeravani (paramilitary police), were deployed just west of Kirkuk. The Arab Political Council and Turkoman Front denounced the Kurdish move and demanded its immediate withdrawal. A call for a 'day of wrath' to protest the peshmerga presence was only averted by a police-enforced curfew.
"On March 3, Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded through a spokesman that the KRG withdraw its troops: 'These troops were deployed without the permission of the central government and the Prime Minister has asked them to draw down immediately' (Kurd Net, March 4). However, Shaykh Ja’afar Mustafa, the Minister of Peshmerga Affairs, announced that the Kurdish forces would not withdraw until the situation normalized (Kurd Net, March 9). He claimed that the Kurds had to protect Kirkuk from al-Qaeda, Arab groups, and Ba’athists and were acting on the basis of intelligence reports that indicated that these groups had been planning to take over the city during the protests (Kurd Net, March 9). Mustafa also asserted that the Kurds were coordinating their actions with the Iraqi army units in the region (Kurd Net, March 2)."
These events in Iraq outside Baghdad have not gotten the attention they deserve, as the type of protests seen across the Middle East are, in Iraq's north, increasing the volatility of an already situation. On one level, there is the KRG's stated fear for their interests in Kirkuk. On the other, there is the fact that it is easy for the challenged authorities in Iraq, in this case the KRG, to try and answer protests by standing up for the interests of the community they represent against those of other communities, and portray the opposition as traitors.
(Crossposted to American Footprints)