So there’s this other Iraq, a place you probably don’t hear about that often. Unlike the rest of Iraq, it’s peaceful, prosperous and even quite pretty. It’s the autonomous Kurdish region, which in the late 1990s wrested its de facto independence from Iraq after decades of struggle and one even one genocidal gas attack.
In a campaign to “cleanse” rebellious Kurds from the oil-rich norther city of Kirkuk in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein ordered many Kurds murdered and thousands forced from their homes. Now they’re returning, shifting Kirkuk’s demographics in favor of Kurds. This has got Baghdad very worried, since Kurdish constitutional delegates managed to slip into the new constitution a clause that puts Kirkuk up for referendum this year. If a majority of the city’s population votes to join the Kurdish regional government, Kirkuk’s hundreds of millions of barrells of crude will belong to Kurdistan, as I explained last year in The Washington Times:
Many Kurdish sources are reluctant to talk about the exploration near Dohuk and at two other sites, where security is tight and access by visitors restricted. But Per Thorsdalen, a member of the advance party for a Norwegian firm involved in oil operations, confirmed the fields’ existence and locations. Norwegian oil company DNO is the main contractor for the Dohuk operation. Published reports indicate Kurdistan’s oil fields are smaller than those in southern Iraq and near the contested city of Kirkuk. The regional government claims that its oil reserves total 45 billion barrels, versus 200 billion for all of Iraq, but this figure derives from outmoded methods of estimating field size. The true size of Kurdistan’s reserves could be much lower or much higher. Still, Kurdish officials are optimistic that the region’s oil will prove a major source of income.
These days, Kurdistan is the only part of Iraq where any oil exploration is going on. Add in Kirkuk’s oil and you’ve got a very wealthy country contained within a very poor one. With Iraqi Kurdistan rising, ethnic Kurds in neighboring countries — namely Turkey, Syria and Iran — are very very nervous, as Gulf News explains:
Kirkuk, the oil-rich province of northern Iraq is back in the forefront of political events in light of two developments: Turkish intervention to benefit the Iraqi Turkmen minority, and secondly the Kurdish leader Masoud Barazani’s statements which asserted that Kirkuk is Kurdish land.
Meanwhile, Kurdish rebels, especially in Turkey, are fighting for a greater Kurdistan that would effectively carve big chunks out of the Middle East, but not without a lot of bloodshed. Already Turkey is threatening to invade northern Iraq. So far the United States has stood by its Kurdish ally. But if Kurdistan starts pushing for independence, that might change.
Check out some of my C-SPAN correspondence from the Kurdish capital of Erbil:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/epfxR891WY0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ZBOA6mGrGLA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]