2005 October 30 Sunday
The Demographic Battle For Kirkuk

An excellent article in the Washington Post (and well worth reading in full) provides an excellent survey of Kurdish attempts to demographically retake Kirkuk and the surrounding region in order to make them part of a future independent Kurdish state.

KIRKUK, Iraq -- Providing money, building materials and even schematic drawings, Kurdish political parties have repatriated thousands of Kurds into this tense northern oil city and its surrounding villages, operating outside the framework of Iraq's newly ratified constitution and sparking sporadic violence between Kurdish settlers and the Arabs who are a minority here, according to U.S. military officials and Iraqi political leaders.

The rapidly expanding settlements, composed of two-bedroom concrete houses whose dimensions are prescribed by the Kurdish parties, are effectively re-engineering the demography of northern Iraq, enabling the Kurds to add what ultimately may be hundreds of thousands of voters ahead of a planned 2007 referendum on the status of Kirkuk. The Kurds hope to make the city and its vast oil reserves part of an autonomous Kurdistan.

Saddam Hussein deported large numbers of Kurds from the Kurdish region he controlled and at the same time he shipped in Sunni and Shia Arabs. Since Saddam's fall many Arabs have been leaving (and some have been scared into leaving) while the Kurdish political parties have simultaneously been using cash from the regional government units to pay to resettle Kurds from central and southern Iraq into areas which they consider to be part of their Kurdish homeland. This is demographic war over how large the Kurdish autonomous region will be and whether the Kurds will eventually manage to secede entirely from Iraq.

The Kurds probably need to add perhaps two hundred thousand Kurds to swing Kirkuk firmly into the Kurdish sphere. But to the extent that they manage to drive out Arabs they can reduce the amount of Kurds they need to add.

Kirkuk's precise demographic makeup is a source of dispute, but Kurds are believed to represent 35 to 40 percent of the population. The remainder is composed primarily of Arabs, ethnic Turkmens and a small percentage of Assyrian Christians.

The Kurds, saying they have a historical claim, hope to anchor Kirkuk to Kurdistan, their semiautonomous region. Kirkuk holds strategic as well as symbolic value: The ocean of oil beneath its surface could be used to drive the economy of an independent Kurdistan, the ultimate goal for many Kurds.

If the non-Kurdish politicians have their numbers right then the outcome of Kirkuk's referendum is already been determined.

Arab and Turkmen politicians said as many as 350,000 Kurds have been relocated into the Kirkuk region since Hussein's fall.

Once US troops leave Iraq willl the Kurds formally secede or just pretend to be part of Iraq while de facto seceding? In either event, will the Arabs wage civil war to keep the Kurds in Iraq? Or will the Sunni and Shia Arabs be too busy fighting each other to bother with the Kurds? How is this going to go down?

The problem with formal secession is that it increases the odds that the Turks will intervene. Turkey does not want an independent Kurdistan because the existence of a Kurdish state might embolden the Turkish Kurds to renew their struggle to secede from Turkey.

By themselves I do not see the Arabs in Iraq putting together a military force effective enough to put the Kurds under the thumbs of the Arabs. But might a future Iraqi government ally with Turkey to jointly invade the Kurdish region? Or will the Turks restrain their desire to invade a Kurdish state because such an invasion would almost certainly torpedo their efforts to join the European Union?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 October 30 10:28 AM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Cleansing

Ivan Kirigin said at October 30, 2005 11:25 AM:

"Or will the Turks restrain their desire to invade a Kurdish state because such an invasion would almost certainly torpedo their efforts to join the European Union?"

You've hit the nail on the head. An independent Kurdistan would be good for Iraq and, obviously, for the Kurds (who, I've been told, are the largest ethnicity without a nation). Turkey will do nothing drastic to stop Kurdistan from forming, and would be well advised to work with its own Kurdish population to mitigate complaints or even facilitate a bilateral secession.

Turkish nationalists in favor of joining the EU will be stronger than nationalists advocating military action to stop a secession.

Ivan Kirigin said at October 30, 2005 11:26 AM:

Alternative question: does independent nation-status matter in a globablized, non-oppressive nation?

Stephen said at October 30, 2005 3:57 PM:

My guess is that Turkey would, without hesitation, sacrifice EU membership and attack (or at least destabilise) a nascent Kurdistan. Just look at a Kurdish ethnicity map - Turkey knows that the moment Kurdistan is established Turkey's own Kurdish population will seek to spli-off eastern Turkey to join the new country.

Kenelm Digby said at October 31, 2005 5:15 AM:

Of course, we see this silly "race to the bottom" battle of births elsewhere in Palestine/Israel.
It has always struck me as astupid strategy, leading inevitably to mass unemployment and the sub-division of farms to microscopic levels.
The real losr in these silly "ethnic battles" is of course Europe and North America who will ALWAYS BUT ALWAYS end up taking in this needless surpass of humanity as "undocumented workers" and "refugees" on "humanitarian grounds", for as long as we are ruled by the same dumb-ass political class.

Silchiuk said at October 31, 2005 6:26 AM:

Ivan is making much sense, thanks. Kurds be having in Turkey and Iran and Syria. These want much independent living from others. Turkey want European members for trade. This will complicating situation.

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