[Marxism] Kurds maneuver for independent state
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 26 07:28:08 MDT 2006
Kurds quietly angle for independence
Oil revenue could give Iraq's Kurds greater economic distance from Baghdad,
By James Brandon | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
ARBIL, IRAQ - As Iraq's government takes shape after months of political
deadlock, the country's leading Kurdish politicians have promised to work
toward a cohesive and peaceful Iraq.
"If [Prime Minister Jawad] al-Maliki quickly establishes a powerful
government that includes all groups, he will be an asset for the Iraqi
people," said Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish president of Iraq, after Iraq's
Parliament approved his second term and named Shiite politician Mr. Maliki
to replace the embattled Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
The Kurdish desire for independence, however, still runs deep. And with
parts of Iraq increasingly unstable and growing more Islamic, experts say
the Kurds, who are relatively secular, are working quietly to consolidate
and extend the autonomy they have enjoyed since 1991.
The Kurdish Regional Government, which has run the Kurd's autonomous zone
in northern Iraq since the early 1990s, recently has signed contracts with
foreign oil companies to explore for new oil fields in Kurdish-ruled areas
of Iraq. Experts say they hope the revenue generated from these deals could
provide greater economic, and thus political, independence from Baghdad.
"The Kurds are offering attractive terms to companies that are willing to
take a gamble on the legal situation," says Rafiq Latta, a Middle East
editor of the Argus Oil and Gas report in London. "And some small oil
companies are prepared to take the bait."
The Norwegian oil firm DNO has been quickest off the mark, followed by
Canadian firm Western Oil Sands. DNO began exploration in northern Iraq in
2004. But two weeks ago it announced that it would be able to begin pumping
oil from one newly discovered field near the city of Zakho in early 2007.
At present Kurdistan's annual budget comes from its share of Iraq's overall
oil revenues, which are distributed according to population. As a result,
the Kurds receive 17 percent of Iraq's overall $30 billion annual oil revenues.
Iraq's oil exports, however, are mainly from the Shiite-dominated south -
meaning that Iraq's Shiite rulers, theoretically at least, could shut down
Kurdish northern Iraq's economy at will.
Kurdish oil aspirations are also challenged by poor security and the
Constitution, which states that, unlike oil exploration, contracts to
repair existing oil fields must be negotiated by the Oil Ministry in Baghdad.
Last week, Shamkhi Faraj, head of marketing and economics at the Ministry
of Oil in Baghdad, estimated that Iraq's oil industry needed $25 billion to
repair war damage and replace old equipment and infrastructure.
So far the Shiite-controlled Ministry of Oil has been largely unsuccessful
in signing contracts to repair the oil fields. Experts say that foreign
companies are worried by possible insurgent attacks, but also by the
political uncertainty of Baghdad.
Consequently, the Kurds have been unable to fully repair the oil fields
around Kirkuk, largely under Kurdish control since 2003. This is a source
of frustration for the Kurds, as the fields contain around 15 percent of
Iraq's oil wealth.
But even if the Kurds could fund the reconstruction of oil facilities in
Kirkuk themselves - as some are now suggesting - this would mark only a
start. The Kurds would also have to build new pipelines to export their oil.
"Under Saddam the oil fields were very badly damaged," says Mr. Latta.
"Water was pumped into them as cheap way to increase output, and a huge
amount of foreign investment is going to be needed.
"And even then it's not just a simple matter of having oil reserves and
turning on the taps," he says. "Managing that investment will require a lot
of expertise, which the Kurds simply don't have."
The Kurds have, however, at least consolidated their physical control over
Kirkuk's oil. Before the US invasion in 2003, Kirkuk was a mainly Arab
city. Today Kurds are the majority, having driven out many of the Shiite
Arabs brought in by Saddam Hussein to "Arabize" the city.
"Those who were brought to Kirkuk by Saddam should leave and then there
should be a referendum," says Azad Jundiani, head of the media office of
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) - one of the two main Kurdish
But a recent move by influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr indicates that
Shiites are trying to counter Kurdish control of Kirkuk. The Washington
Post reported Tuesday that "hundreds of Shiite Muslim militiamen have
deployed in recent weeks" there. The newspaper said as many as 240 fighters
loyal to Mr. Sadr have arrived to the city.
Almost as important to long-term Kurdish ambitions is Tal Afar, an Iraqi
city that's ethnically Turkish but Shiite by religion. It lies between
Mosul and the Kurdish enclave of Sinjar near the Syrian border.
"Tal Afar is the Kurds' access route to Sinjar, and through Sinjar they
have access to Syrian Kurdistan," explains Joost Hiltermann, a Middle East
analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. In other words,
if the Kurds can also take and hold Tal Afar, then their dream of a greater
Kurdistan remains alive.
"They claim Tal Afar to be a Kurdish area and a place where many Kurdish
live but, in fact, it's an important milestone on the road to the creation
of Greater Kurdistan," says Dr. Hiltermann.
In the past few weeks fighting there has revived awareness of Kurdish
vulnerability, especially as reports circulate that Iranian and Turkish
troops are concentrating along the borders of Iraq's Kurdish north.
Many Iraqi Kurds are increasingly aware of the obstacles to greater
independence. Both Kurdish political leaders and ordinary citizens are
resigning themselves to remaining part of Iraq for the foreseeable future.
"The Kurds desire to rule themselves," says Farhad Auny, head of the
Journalists' Syndicate in Arbil. "But at the same time it is not to the
benefit of the Middle East, the international community or the Kurds
themselves to ask for independence now."
And to this end the Kurds are starting to think the unthinkable and begin a
process of forgiving their Arab compatriots.
"Since the establishment of Iraq 80 years ago the Kurds have been exploited
and tortured by all Iraqi governments," says Mr. Auny. "We are not going to
talk about what we have suffered from the Arabs but it has taught us that
we must build a modern and developed country.
"The Kurdish people are flexible and forgiving but they never forget," he
says. "To hate is to be weak. You cannot grow good crops in a soil of hatred."
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