Instability in Northern Iraq

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    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

Lost amidst the Arab Spring turmoil and recent events in Libya and Syria, the news coming out of Iraq has hardly been encouraging. Whether in Baghdad or other areas around the country, each day there are attacks on government forces or innocent bystanders. The situation is especially tense in the north, where the Kurds have come under siege from both Turkey and Iran, as well as internally from the Shiite government in Baghdad.

In yesterday’s edition of The National, Nizar Latif comments on “fears of a fresh outbreak of sectarian violence [that is] grip[ing] Iraq….A string of attacks on Iraqi security forces killed at least 19 people yesterday, with the country still reeling from a bus massacre earlier in the week that dramatically increased sectarian tensions….Yesterday’s deadly attacks showed that Iraqi  soldiers and police are highly vulnerable to militants, while Monday’s bus murders underlined that civilians, too, remain firmly in the firing line….The officer also said that Sunni tribes in Anbar viewed the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad, led by the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, as narrowly sectarian. ‘There is building frustration in Anbar about what they see as Shiite control, with government money and support directed at Shiite areas, not Sunni areas,’ he said. ‘The Sunni provinces feel they are being neglected, and that is making more people [in Anbar] cooperate with al Qaeda again.’”

In the north, PUK Media, the voice of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan reports, “Iranian artillery pounded on Wednesday evening some border areas of the Kurdistan region. A well-known source told PUK media that Iranian artillery pounded on Wednesday evening the Lilkan village of Sidakan subdistrict, setting fire to the village and its outskirts. Turkish warplanes and Iranian artillery have often bombed the Kurdistan border areas under the pretext of attacking Kurdish rebels; last month Iranian artilleries bombing forced hundreds of Kurdish people to flee their homes.”

Meanwhile, the situation in Kirkuk remains unstable. A report filed by Diyar Samad for AK News says that “the Turkmen community in Kirkuk will form a special security force to protect the Turkmen citizens of the disputed city. Najat Hassan, representative of the Turkmen in Kirkuk, announced the new unit with 100-150 armed men Thursday….Jamal Taher, chief of police in Kirkuk, criticized the move: ‘I do not support the formation of a committee like this, set up on the basis of nationalism in Kirkuk.’ He would prefer additional support for the police of Kirkuk, if the government agrees that additional security is necessary….Unlike other regions, attacks in Kirkuk have not significantly decreased in recent years, with bombings and shootings an almost daily occurrence. Observers believe that the file of the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil will be a challenge for Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country at the end of this year.”

Kurdish concerns remain high, especially since the Shiite-led government has been slow to implement the Arbil agreement. Staff reporters at Aswat Al-Iraq duly noted the threats coming from the Kurds regarding the matter: “Parliamentary Kurdish Alliance spokesman Muaid al-Tayib announced today that the meeting of the Kurdish leaders decided to call on all political entities and the federal government to implement the Arbil agreement, pointing out that ‘the Kurds will adopt another stance if it is not implemented.’ Tayib told Aswat al-Iraq that the conferees decided to postpone the visit of the Kurdish governmental delegation, headed by Premier Barham Saleh, following the implementation of the Arbil agreement, calling on all parties to abide by the articles of the constitution.”

The slow pace of the implementation of the Arbil agreement was also the subject of the conversation between “Kurdistan leader Massoud Barazani and head of the Al Iraqiya list Iyad Allawi,” who, according to Al Sumaria TV, “discussed in Arbil the situation in Iraq and obstacles hindering the political process, the Kurdistan Presidency announced….Barazani and Allawi stressed, during their meeting, the importance of implementing the Arbil agreement and finding an appropriate mechanism to occupy security positions in a way that guarantees security and stability in the country, a statement by the Kurdistan presidency said.”

For some, “Uncertainty and insecurity [has already led] to a drastic slash in foreign investment in Iraq’s Kurdish north.” Hayam Raheem argues on the Iraqi Azzaman news website, “The volume of foreign investments in the Kurdish north is forecast to plunge to about $1 billion dollars in 2011 from nearly $5 billion last year, according to the latest statistics issued by the Kurdish region’s Investment Commission. The plummeting of the flow of foreign investments is mainly attributed to disturbances and uncertainty in the region and the country at large, said the head of the research and studies unit at the commission Haydar Mostafa….He said, while foreign investment amounted to $3.92 billion in 2009 and $4.75 billion in 2010, it has plunged to $899 million so far in 2011. Prospects are dim with both Iran and Turkey bombing Iraqi Kurdish areas close to their borders in pursuit of Turkish and Iranian Kurdish rebels who have taken northern Iraq as a haven and springboard for attacks on both countries. The withdrawal of U.S. occupation troops from Iraq by the end of the year is another reason spooking investors.”

No wonder that the Kurdish leadership in Iraq has been less than enthusiastic about the prospect of U.S. forces leaving the country. According to Radio Free Europe, “The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government says U.S. forces will still be needed in Iraq in 2012 and that their absence could lead to a civil war or sectarian conflicts, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports. Masud Barzani also called on the Iraqi government to sign an agreement with U.S. forces to stay in the country after their withdrawal deadline of December 31 and until the Iraqi military is able to assume full responsibility in protecting the country’s borders and air space….’We are in a difficult situation. We have [Iran and Turkey] who are asking us to control our borders,’ Barzani said. ‘But at the same time, we cannot send an [Iraqi] Kurdish army to the borders because this may lead to a Kurd versus Kurd war.’ He added that the Kurdish regional government is trying its best to prevent war, and ‘if there will be one, we will not be a part of it.’”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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