Friday, April 09, 2004

to the north
...the pot starts to boil. From the International Crisis Group

A series of negotiations produced an interim constitution (Transitional Administrative Law, TAL) on 8 March 2004 that recognised a single Kurdish region effectively equivalent to what the Kurds have governed in semi-independence since 1991 (i.e., without Kirkuk), elevated Kurdish to official language status alongside Arabic, and met another Kurdish demand by providing for a census to determine the final status of Kirkuk. However, away from the give and take of the negotiations in Baghdad, the Kurds are contributing mightily to a volatile atmosphere in Kirkuk, using their numbers and superior organisation to undo decades of Arabisation.

Significantly, however, the tough TAL negotiations and the friction in Kirkuk mask a profound shift in Kurdish strategy that is yet to be broadcast and understood publicly. The top leaderships of the two principal Kurdish parties are offering Iraqi Arabs what amounts to an historic compromise: acceptance of an autonomous region as the maximum objective of the Kurdish national movement they represent and, even more importantly, a willingness to abandon the exclusive claim to Kirkuk. Regrettably, Kurdish leaders have yet to start preparing the Kurdish people for this deep strategic shift.
Another threat looms: if the U.S.-designed political transition comes unstuck in the face of spreading unrest, as the events of the past few days threaten, Kurdish leaders may alter their stance again and be tempted to protect the gains they have made since 1991 by asserting unilateral control over claimed territories, including Kirkuk. That would likely cross a Turkish "red line" and risk a grave regional confrontation, requiring international intervention.