National Security Network

NSN Daily Update – Violence Erupts in Kirkuk

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Report 29 July 2008

Iraq Iraq iraq Kirkuk Maliki

Painful reminder that proclamations of having “succeeded” in Iraq are premature, political reconciliation remains elusive

Violence erupted yesterday in the contested oil rich city of Kirkuk, killing dozens and providing a sobering reminder that improved security is a far cry from lasting “success” which only political compromise will bring. Kirkuk – an ethnically-divided city with sizeable Kurdish, Turkmen, and Arab populations – is claimed by Kurds although it sits just outside the official boundaries of Kurdistan. The Turkmen and Arab populations strongly resist Kurdish efforts to integrate Kirkuk into a greater Kurdistan and have called for a power-sharing agreement over the contested city. Political infighting in Baghdad over power-sharing in Kirkuk has dimmed prospects for provincial elections and done much to spark the latest unrest – as well as delayed much-desired oil industry development in the region. To make the situation even more explosive, the Turkmen – who have ethnic ties to the Turks – have the support of the Turkish government, which has already invaded northern Iraq last year to take on Kurdish insurgents and greatly fears growing Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq. The situation in Kirkuk is one of several dangerous potential flashpoints that make Senator McCain’s declaration last week that “we have succeeded in Iraq” misguided and premature at best.

Dozens killed, hundreds wounded after bombing and ethnic clashes erupt in Kirkuk, leading Maliki to send Iraqi forces to the fractured city. “According to Kurdish security officials, the blast in Kirkuk killed 15 people and triggered fighting among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens causing 12 more deaths. All together, the bombing and clashes injured 187 people. “The violence in Kirkuk, with its delicate ethnic and sectarian makeup perched atop great oil reserves, deeply unnerved government and security officials, who instituted curfews there and in Baghdad. Leaders of the Turkmen ethnic group, in competition for land and political power with the Kurds, called for protection by United Nations security forces. The attacks also underscored that the raw passions and anger fed by Iraq’s deep ethnic, regional and sectarian divides can still instantly ignite. Concerns about stability ran so high that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered a battalion of Iraqi troops to reinforce Kirkuk and put other unspecified “emergency reserve” troops on alert in case the violence spread, state-run television reported late Monday.” [Washington Post, 7/29/08; NY Times, 7/29/08]

In Baghdad, tension among Iraq’s political leaders Kirkuk has remained high and has delayed passage of an election law, putting the prospects for elections this fall in doubt. Recently, tensions have risen in Kirkuk over a power-sharing agreement inserted in a provincial elections measure that gives Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens equal numbers of seats in the governing council of Tamim province, or which Kirkuk is the capital. The measure would dilute Kurdish dominance in Kirkuk. Despite a walkout by Kurdish lawmakers, the Iraqi parliament passed the legislation last Tuesday. However, Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, later vetoed it. [Washington Post, 7/29/08; CAP, 7/28/08]

Political accommodation and power-sharing between Iraqi factions remain the greatest challenges in Iraq, threatening fragile security gains. According to Iraq analysts, Brian Katulis and Peter Juul, the bombings in Kirkuk illustrate that “Iraq’s problems are fundamentally political in nature. The challenge is not security, which has improved dramatically over the last year, but political accommodation and power-sharing between Iraqi factions.” Furthermore, “Iraq’s conflicts will not solve themselves peacefully unless political compromises and deals are made. As long as they remain unresolved, Iraq’s security gains will remain fragile and open to violent destabilization.” [CAP, 7/28/08]

Quick Hits

A village in Pakistan’s border region was hit by a US missile strike, killing six, reportedly including a senior Al Qaeda leader. This came hours before President Bush and Prime Minister Gilani met at the White House to highlight their continued alliance in the war on terror. Bush “made a point of saying he respected Pakistan's sovereignty.”

Meanwhile, 30 policemen were taken hostage and three intelligence officers killed in the FATA region of Pakistan. This is a gross violation of the truce signed between the government and the local militants.

A major joint offensive between U.S. and Iraqi forces in Iraq’s Diyala province began today to root out some of the last remaining insurgent strongholds.

The US needs to put more emphasis on police and intelligence efforts in the fight against terrorists, rather than rely on the military, according to a new report by the Rand research center. “Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.”

The Department of Homeland Security created another category of security alert a ‘POHA’ (Period of High Alert) for its employees in advance of “a series of upcoming high-profile events,” including the Olympics and the election.