Kurds and Turkomen clash in Kirkuk. Is a wide-ranging ethnic conflict many predicted soon to follow?
Three Turkomen were shot dead in ethnic violence in Kirkuk on Saturday, ending months of relative calm in the Kurdish region of Iraq. It’s unclear exactly what’s happening, but that seems to have been the cap on two days of violence in Kirkuk and Tuz Kharmato to the south, with at least 10 people being killed, some of them at the hands of American troops. The Associated Press reports that in addition to police shootings, artillery or mortar fire “rocked” the city on Saturday.
While a single weekend does not an internecine conflict make, the fallout has reached Ankara, where a “mob” of about 100 Turks attacked the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan there. KurdishMedia.com reports that about 23 Turkish police officers and a number of protesters were injured in the melee.
“Kirkuk is Turkish and it will remain Turkish,” shouted the protesters. “Damn Talabani, damn the peshmerga.” (Jalal Talabani is the Secretary-General of the PUK.)
In Kirkuk, the Turkmen representative to the interim Iraqi Governing Council called for the Kirkuk police to be disarmed.
All this is happening as the Middle East Newsline reports that Turkey will contribute 10,000 troops to patrol the Sunni Triangle extending west and north of Baghdad. They will remain under Turkish command and separate from the two international divisions rumored to be en route to Iraq.
This is most alarming. I wrote, during the war, that I felt the Turkomen were crying wolf about the threat to their security in a bid to play Turkey and the United States off one another so as to reign in the Kurds when it came time to establish a government in Kirkuk.
[Salim Otrakchi, a Turkoman spokesman] said the Turkomen were especially worried about Kirkuk because the PUK had promised it would not go into the city with its forces and it did anyway.
At this point, it’s probably a good idea just to tell you that I don’t believe what anyone is telling me at face value. The Kurds, deep in their hearts, really do want an independent Kurdistan and this talk of federalism is the practical side of Kurdish nationalism. If they thought they could get away with it, they would bolt Iraq and never look back, I think. The Turkomen don’t really feel that threatened, but they see the Kurds with their new buddies, the Americans, and worry they’ll be left out of any settlement and development plans in the north. So, they’re trying to play the Turks off the Americans to keep the Kurds in check. And the Turks … Well, actually, I believe them when they say they’re worried about their security. They’re a truly paranoid bunch.
While this may be an isolated incident, as I mentioned, I could also be wrong in my original thoughts on the subject. I watched with dismay as in the days following the capture of Baghdad and Kirkuk as the Kurds drove Arabs from land they felt had been taken from them under Saddam Hussein’s Arabization program. Revenge was being taken and the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to stop it.
Well, now the U.S. has its hands full with the Sunni Triangle and the guerrilla fighters there. Most of Iraqi Kurdistan has had but a sprinkling of American troops with most of the security being provided by Kurdish forces. Perhaps long-simmering tensions are starting to boil over after a brutally hot summer.
I hope not. But — and I apologize for again referring back to myself — as I wrote on Jan. 12, 2003:
Instead of a nice, clean occupation that results in the first Arab democracy — and a network of Army bases from which to project power throughout the region — I predict the United States will have years of guerilla insurgency from nationalistic Iraqis (some of the fiercest nationalism in the Arab world), the dirty job of suppressing Kurdish and Shi’ite independence movements and Sunni power grabs, the problem of al Qai’da slipping across the borders (with the help of Iran and sympathetic Saudis) into the country to stike at American troops and meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. And don’t forget the resentment in the region that will occur when the United States begins exploiting the Iraqi oil fields for its own purposes. No one will like that, least of all the Iraqis.
So far, it appears only the last prediction hasn’t come to pass. Let’s hope this latest incident isn’t the start of something far worse.