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Kirkuk the Consolation Prize?

The Iraqi government has every right to assert control over Kirkuk and its environs. (One only wonders why it waited this long.) The city has never been a Kurdish stronghold under the protection of Peshmerga, that coddled and abetted accomplice for the US-UK-Israel plan for dividing Iraq. And no Kurdish force has ever had any legitimate presence there. So recent references by both NPR and BBC new hosts about Peshmerga fighters “allowing Iraqi forces in” and “withdrawing from the city” as if they represented Kurdish sovereignty in Kirkuk are misleading at best.

No one yet knows what the outcome will be of Baghdad’s belated move to affirm authority in the area with its sudden military presence in and around Kirkuk. Interested foreign parties from Turkey to Israel have remained silent, thus far. Meanwhile Kurdish spokespeople are making alarming claims in the international press about the deployment, even suggesting those Iraqi forces are ISIS-linked, also invoking the trope of Shia militants taking over their city, assertions left unchallenged by a totally acquiescent BBC and NPR.

Why is there so little willingness by US and British media to acknowledge the character and legal status of Kirkuk in Iraq? One hears no reference to the forced transformation of the city and its environs by nationalist-secessionist Kurdish interests from a majority Turkmen community to a Kurdish one starting in 1991 when the US and UK helped establish an inchoate Kurdish sovereign state in northern Iraq?

The day of the Kurdish referendum in September I noted the process by which Iraqi Kurdish leaders forcibly converted Kirkuk into a Kurdish city, with the intention of annexing it when the time came (last month) for their claim of independence.

It is mystifying why the Turkmen of Iraq, a fiercely Iraqi nationalist significant minority, has been so invisible in international press coverage of the region. Visiting Kirkuk on two occasions before American forces invaded Iraq in 2003, I saw the displacement of Turkmen families (begun in 1991) in progress and I’ve followed their growing fear of Kurdish dominance, all without threats of armed retaliation. Their population is at least three million and many Turkmen are well placed in Iraq’s government. Although that proved insufficient to thwart Kurdish ambitions over Kirkuk.

Turkmen’s marginalization in their homeland has won little sympathy outside; their identity and ethnic rights are completely overshadowed by Kurdish separatists and their foreign partners and lackeys, such as Peter Galbraith. Are we supposed to accept comments by BBC guest Nadhim Zahawi as a fair assessment (BBC World news 10.17.17)? Zahawi is a British-Kurdish millionaire, a UK member of parliament, also director of Gulf Keystone Petroleum GKP operating in Iraqi Kurdistan; he moreover chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan. This in addition to his many controversial legal involvements.

The wider public, it seems is only permitted to know that Kirkuk sits on major oil deposits. (Of course that explains it being coveted by the Kurds in alliance with the West.) But what about the longtime Turkmen character and history of the city? What about the sustained opposition by Turkmen Iraqis and the Baghdad government to surreptitious tactics by the Kurds, to make it appear the city is Kurdish and lies within the three Kurdish-dominated governates (Erbil, Sulaimania and Duhok) that have enjoyed considerable autonomy since 1991. Kirkuk is no more a part of Kurdish Iraq than nearby Mosul is and Kurdish rights to Kirkuk has never been part of the semi-autonomous understanding between Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad.

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Barbara Nimri Aziz is a New York based anthropologist and journalist. Find her work at www.RadioTahrir.org. She was a longtime producer at Pacifica-WBAI Radio in NY.

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