Iraqis in Baghdad and the country’s south are already calling the events of the past two weeks “the catastrophe”. Not so inhabitants of the would-be Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil, where joy is unrestrained and a long-held sense of destiny is ever closer to being realised.
As the central government teeters under the insurgent onslaught, the fate of Irbil appears more assured then ever. Kurdish politicians, in the past not shy to criticise Arab Iraqi leaders, but coy about their national ambitions, are now openly touting “a new reality”.
To Kurdish officials and locals alike, a tectonic shift in the balance of power between Iraq’s two power bases, and peoples, has taken place. And Kirkuk, the bitterly contested oil hub, is at the epicentre.
In the heady days following the fall of Mosul and Tikrit, the Kurdish Peshmurga forces crossed into Kirkuk to head off the fast advancing jihadist group Isis. The Iraqi army, meanwhile, was fast retreating south, abandoning in hours a city that had been at the heart of the dispute between the Kurds and the Arabs for more than 70 years.
For the Kurds, the army’s stunning capitulation has now settled the matter for good.
“Kirkuk will finally produce oil for the Kurds,” said Muhama Khalil, the Kurdish head of the economic committee in Iraq’s national parliament. “For 70 years oil has been used to buy weapons to kill us. Finally we have our own oil and it will only be for the Kurds.”
The significance of Kirkuk changing hands sits uncomfortably with Iraqis in Baghdad. Many express shame at the Iraqi military’s collapse. Others blame the rout on a conspiracy concocted between generals and Kurdish leaders and involving vast amounts of cash. Whatever the cause, most hold little hope that the city will return to Iraqi control anytime soon.
And nor do they believe the a fast crumbling state can assert its control over oilfields that the Kurds have long coveted.
Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani helped stoke those fears this week, with his most outspoken comments yet since Isis launched its headlong offenisve. “Iraq is obviously falling apart,” he told CNN. “We did not cause the collapse of Iraq. It is others who did. And we cannot remain hostages for the unknown.”
Pressed on whether Iraqi Kurds would seek to push for their ‘holy grail’ of independence, Barzani added: “The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold.”
Barzani has long calculated that having a state in all but name has served both his and the Kurdish peoples’ interests. His role as leader of Iraq’s Kurds has also made him one of several defacto leaders of the 40 million strong Kurdish population, scattered between northern Iraq, eastern Syrian, south-eastern Turkey, and western Iran, all of whom seem happy enough with Kurdish autonomy, but – Turkey especially – would feel gravely threatened by a proclamation of statehood… see more
source: Guardian UK