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Monday, April 26, 2004

More on Kirkuk 

Matthew Yglesias kind of off-handedly throws out the following instanalysis of the Peter Galbraith piece I linked to in my last post:
[Galbraith] talks a bunch about Kirkuk and the looming disputes surrounding the disposition of that city. But when he proposes that Kurdistan become de facto and yet not de jure independent, complete with an autonomous military force, he doesn't say which side of the line the city belongs in. I suspect this is not an oversight per se, but rather a reflection of a philo-Kurdia that runs through the article at many levels. He is saying -- but without quite saying so -- that we should let the peshmerga seize Kirkuk while the Shiite-dominated New Iraqi Army is weak, reverse decades of Arabization (and God knows what happens to the Turkmen), and just leave things at that. That just sounds to me like a recipe for endless conflict and bitterness down the road. I'm more optimistic that some sort of Kurd-Shia accord could be reached if we make it clear to the parties involved that unless an accord is reached, we regard the situation as hopeless and don't intend to keep throwing good money (and Marines) after bad.
Okay: a negotiated settlement is preferable to a Shiite-aggravating imposed solution. On "democratic processes breed democratic behavior" grounds, it's hard to argue with this logic.

Yet, as I've argued here (and harped on again and again), when control of natural resources is at stake, the promise of future returns from their capture can fuel dreams of conquest, and help convince otherwise uninterested parties to lend material, financial and other forms of support to separatists, resulting in civil war being more likely to break out and likelier to be long-lasting and nasty. This is a dynamic that we've seen happen again and again, as I described in that previous post.

So what? So maybe it's a good idea, on stability grounds, to let the Kurds grab Kirkuk, precisely so that it's clear just who is in control of the oilfields. As long as the US puts extensive pressure on the Kurds to distribute the oil revenues from the Kirkuk fields according to some negotiated agreement, this might be the most stable configuration we could hope for. The biggest danger I see here is the prospect of really unpleasant reverse-Arabization: obviously there would have to be a lot of international pressure on the Kurds to behave in accordance with human rights norms. Maybe there is some useful precedent to be found in cases like the post-Soviet Baltic republics. Maybe.

On the other hand, as I discussed here, the Kurds are hardly a unified group at this point. It's hard to know whether this militates against my point (i.e. even if "the Kurds" control Kirkuk, the same oil-fuels-separatist-conflict logic obtains for Kurd against Kurd war) or for it (i.e. the PUK, who are the more pro-federal Iraq of the Kurdish groups, would be the ones who ran Kirkuk and would be strengthened by outright control).

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