The Battle for Iraq (Dispatch 3)
Up until a week ago, the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq was one of the most hotly contested areas in the country, with a mishmash of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans, who all had strong claims to the land. Now that the Iraqi army has fled and ISIS has been repelled, the Kurds are fully in control, and hope to integrate the city into the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
Despite a large Kurdish presence in Kirkuk, this still might not be so easy. The Arab and Turkoman populations have long resisted Kurdish rule, and the large amount of oil nearby - which all of these groups want a fair share of — will only complicate matters further.
The Kurds, however, insist that control over the city is more a matter of dignity. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing throughout Saddam Hussein's rule, many Kurds in the area were forced off the land during an Arabization process, which sought to change the demographics of the city. Poor Arabs were offered land, houses, and money to move to the city and take over formerly Kurdish lands.
During the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Kurdish forces and American soldiers took the city from the Baathist party. But the Kurdish forces mostly withdrew, and the city was not annexed to the KRG.
Since then Kirkuk has been under a sort of coalition rule, though it is still considered a disputed territory. Kurds have sought to implement Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which would allow the people of Kirkuk to vote on whether or not the city should join the KRG or remain part of Iraq. But this vote has been delayed numerous times.
As recently as 2012, the Iraqi army and the Kurdish fighters, know as Peshmerga, engaged in a standoff that at times seemed like it could break out into conflict. For now though, the Kurds are firmly in control — though south of the city, sporadic attacks continue.
VICE News spoke with Falah Mustafa Bakir, the head of foreign relations for the KRG, who said that the Kurds have no intention of giving up their control of Kirkuk.