Sunday, December 03, 2006

Silent brew in northern Iraq

Oct.20, 2006

pv vivekanand

ISRAEL and Turkey are locked in a behind-the-scene tug-of-war in northern Iraq where Kurds seeking to set up an independent state are locked in a bitter battle to drive out the Turkmen community. Also targeted for expulsion from "Kurdistan" are Arabs from other parts of Iraq who were trasnferred there during the Saddam Hussein regime in order to dilute the numerical strength of the Kurds.
Turkmen are Muslims of ethnic Turkish origin who have been living in northern Iraq since the 11th and 12th centuries. They live mainly around the oil-rich areas of Mosul and Kirkuk. Now they number around less than one million although they claim their strength is two million. Iraqi Shiites number around 15.7 million, or 60 per cent of the 26.1 million people of Iraq. Sunnis account for around 20 per cent.
Israel supports the Kurdish drive to separate themselves from Iraq so that the Jewish state could strike oil deals with the Kurds without referring to the central Baghdad government, which is dominated by Shiites and also Sunnis, both of whom are hostile to Israel.
The oil-rich city of Kirkuk is key to the Israeli plan, which involves laying a pipeline from Kirkuk's oilfields to the Israeli refinery located in Haifa on the Mediterranen through Jordan or Syria.
The Kurds, who number about 4.5 million represent 17 per cent of the Iraqi population, have already established a semi-independent (autonomous) state in Kurdistan, including the provinces of Dahouk, Erbil and Sulaimaniyeh.
Kirkuk, the most oil-rich area in Iraq, is in Tameem province, and the Kurds wants to include it in their autonomous territory where they want to set up an independent Kurdistan.
The Turkmen and Arabs, many of whom were resettled their in the 1970s and 1980s, say Kirkuk is an integral part of Iraq and it has to be placed directly under the central government. Turkish was almost the official language in Kirkuk until the early 1970s when it was banned and replaced by Arabic.
Currently the Kurds control the city’s municipal council and police.
The struggle between the Kurds on the one hand and the Turkmen, who are mainly Shiites, and Arabs, who are also mostly Shiites, on the other hand is behind the rising violence in Kirkuk, where a series of recent car bomb attacks which claimed scores of lives.
However, the Turkmen and Arabs have not been able to forge a strong alliance between themselves and present a strong force that could undermine Kurdish plans to annex the city.
Playing a secret role is Israel, whose secret operatives are said to be behind many of the bombings against Turkmen and Arabs in Kirkuk in order to support the Kurds. Israeli security forces are training Kurds and are also advising the Kurdish autonomous government in police and security affairs.
Turkey, which fears the creation of an indepedent Kurdistan because of its own 12-million strong people of Kurdish origin living across the border from Iraq, has warned Israel against its meddling in northern Iraq, but the Israelis are continuing their clandestine association with the Kurdish autonomous government.
The main goal of Israel is to secure its oil supply from Kirkuk. Before Israel was created in 1948 – when the entire area except Syria was under British control - there was an oil pipeline running from Kirkuk to Haifa running through Jordan and Palestine, but this was closed down by Iraq when Israel was created in Palestine and Haifa became part of Israel. Most of the pipeline has been dug out and sold as scrap since then.
Since the closure of the pipeline, Israel has been trying to reopen it, but its efforts were unsuccessful because of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Now that the US has invaded and ousted the Saddam regime and brought Iraq under its control, Israel has renewed the efforts and found the Kurds as its best partners because the Kurds do not share the Arab Muslim hostility towards Israel linked to the Jewish state's occupation of Palestinian and Arab territory.
Currently, Israel buys its oil needs from Russia at international prices and its costs an additonal 30 per cent for the oil to be shipped from Russian oil fields to Haifa. Therefore, it would be a straight 30 per cent saving for Israel if Kirkuk oil is pumped through a pipeline to Haifa.
As the struggle continues in Kurdistan, residents in Kirkuk say conditions in the city and nearby are than that in n Baghdad.
An "ethnic cleansing" is under way in the way, with Kurds forcing out non-Kurds from their areas and non-Kurds doing the same with Kurds.
There is no reliable statistics about the population in Kirkuk because the Saddam regime always manipulated population figures to suit is purposes. The Saddam regime had sought to change the demography of Kirkuk and other parts of northern Iraq by forcing Kurds and Turkmen out to be replaced by Arabs from southern Iraq.
Leaders of the the Iraqi-Turkish front, a Turkmen group, say tens of thousands their community were forced into destitution and now the front is struggling to have them back.
In the meantime, Turkey is seeking to pressure Israel into dropping its plans with the Kurds, but the Israelis are not listening to the Turks, and the US is impliciting backing Israel in this regard.
Effectively, big-time crisis is brewing in northern Iraq, and one could expect more bombings and attacks in Kirkuk in the days and weeks ahead as the struggle gets more intense.