Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan clinch major energy pipeline deals

Reuters reports: Iraqi Kurdistan has finalized a comprehensive package of deals with Turkey to build multi-billion dollar oil and gas pipelines to ship the autonomous region’s rich hydrocarbon reserves to world markets, sources involved in talks said on November 6.

The deals, which could have important geo-political consequences for the Middle East, could see Kurdistan export some 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil to world markets and at least 10 billion cubic meters per year of gas to Turkey.

Such a relationship would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, when Ankara enjoyed strong ties with Iraq’s central Baghdad government and was deep in a decades-long fight with Kurdish militants on its own soil.

But Turkey imports almost all of its energy needs and growing demand means it faces a ballooning deficit, making the resources over its southeastern border hard to ignore.

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Kurdish rebels declare formal ceasefire with Turkey

Reuters reports: The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group declared a “formal and clear ceasefire” with Turkey on Saturday after the rebels’ jailed leader this week ordered a halt to the decades-long armed campaign for autonomy.

“Since March 21 and from now on, we as a movement, as the PKK … officially and clearly declare a ceasefire,” said Murat Karayilan, the PKK’s field commander, in a video message apparently taped at a rebel holdout in northern Iraq.

His comments were translated from Kurdish in the video posted on Firat News, a website with links to the militants.

Abdullah Ocalan, held in an island prison since his 1999 conviction for treason, called on the PKK to cease fire and withdraw from Turkey in a letter read to hundreds of thousands of supporters in the main Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on March 21, the Kurds’ traditional new year holiday.

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Video: Kurdish group releases captive Turks

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Will there be an independent Kurdistan?

Will the losers in the region’s post-WWI upheavals be the winners of the ‘Arab Spring’?

David Hirst writes: The Baghdad newspaper Sabah published a surprising article a few weeks ago. Its editor, Abd Jabbar Shabbout, suggested it was time to settle the “age-old problem” between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds by establishing a “Kurdish state.” Never before had I heard such a once-heretical view so publicly expressed in any Arab quarter. And this was no ordinary quarter: Sabah is the mouthpiece of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Shabbout went on to suggest a negotiated “ending of the Arab-Kurdish partnership in a peaceful way.”

He called his proposal Plan B, Plan A being the “dialogue” between Iraq’s central government and the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq that emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

But Plan A, he said, was getting nowhere. Differences over power and authority, oil and natural resources, territory and borders were so deep that the dialogue repeatedly failed. In December the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga faced off in an atmosphere so tense, according to Shabbout, that hostilities could have broken out at any moment as a result of the slightest miscalculation.

And it wasn’t only Shabbout, but Maliki himself, who warned that if war did break out it wouldn’t be just a war between Kurdish rebels and Baghdad, as it used to be under Hussein, but an “ethnic war between Arabs and Kurds.”

Could it be that the “Kurdish question” has reached another critical stage in its history, one that is intimately bound up with the region-wide cataclysm that is the “Arab Spring”?

The Kurds’ destiny has always been shaped less by their own struggles than by the vagaries of regional and international politics, and the great Middle Eastern upheavals they periodically produce. With World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France promised the Kurds a state of their own, but then reneged. They fetched up as minorities, more or less severely repressed, in the four countries — Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria — among which their vast domains were divided. They repeatedly rebelled, especially in Iraq. But their rebellions were always crushed, the last one, under Hussein with the genocidal use of gas.

But the Kurds never ceased to dream of independent statehood. Their first breakthrough came after Hussein’s megalomaniacal invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when an internationally protected Kurdish “safe haven” was established in northern Iraq, which enabled them to take their first state-building steps in the shape of a regional assembly and a degree of self-government.

Then, after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Kurds consolidated their autonomy with broad new legislative powers, control of their own armed forces and some authority over Iraqi oil resources. But from the outset, they made it clear that they would remain committed to the “new Iraq” only if it treated them as an equal partner. [Continue reading...]

Turkey’s new thinking on Iraqi Kurdistan

Semih Idiz writes: The idea of an independent Kurdistan bordering Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, which has been wracked with separatist violence from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for over quarter of a century, would have raised official hackles only a few years back.

During those days, Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani, the current president of Iraq, and Massoud Barzani, the current head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), were objects of Turkish vilification for their alleged backing of the PKK, and its seemingly endless campaign for separation from Turkey in a war that has resulted in over 30,000 deaths to date.

Far from ceasing, PKK attacks have escalated today due to the crisis in Syria and the turmoil in the Middle East. Based on traditional assumptions this should have driven a bigger wedge between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey. Meanwhile, nationalist Turks still believe the Iraqi Kurdish authorities are providing refuge and logistical support to the PKK lodged in the mountains of Northern Iraq.

However, the official position of Ankara towards the Iraqi Kurds has changed so fundamentally that many are left wondering why Turkey did not come around to its current position much earlier. The change in Ankara’s stance is so significant that Massoud Barzani, in his capacity of Kurdistan Region President, was one of the honored guests at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Congress in Ankara at the end of September.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s March 2011 visit to Erbil, the regional Kurdish capital, was a watershed event amounting to recognition by Ankara of the KRG as a separate political entity, and resulting in the rapid normalizing of ties between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds. So what was the driving force behind this dramatic “volte-face” by Turkey, which once had 200,000 troops on the border threatening to move into Northern Iraq, and in fact going on to do so on a number of occasions?

An irony during the period of high tension between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds is that this tension never prevented individual Turks or Turkish companies from moving into the region and beginning to invest there heavily. One of the masterminds of this economic cooperation, which today is clearly working to mutual advantage, was KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. [Continue reading...]

Map of ‘Syrian Kurdistan’ releases cautiously marked borders

Al Arabiya reports: The Kurdish Centre for Legal Studies and Consultancy, also known as YASA, released a map of what it described as “Syrian Kurdistan” which marks the borders of the Kurdish territories inside Syria.

According to the map, Syrian Kurdistan, also labeled Western Kurdistan by the Bonn-based center, starts from the village of Ain Diwar in the governorate of Hasakah in the northeast and extends across the Turkish borders till the far northwest near the city of Iskenderun.

The map features major cities in the northern Syria like Dêrik, Rmêlan, Tirbespiyê, Kobanî, and Afrin and the percentage of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians in each of them.

The map does not, however, specify the exact area of Syrian Kurdistan, which, according to the center, is not possible at the moment for security reasons. A second study is tp offer more accurate figures.

Based on YASA statistics, the number of Kurds in Syria is estimated at three million, mostly living in the north together with Arab and Christian minorities.

Obama and the Kurdish question: Drones are not the answer

Kevin McKiernan writes: The role of the Obama administration in suppressing the long-running Kurdish uprising in Turkey is largely unknown. But a few weeks ago a U.S. diplomat dropped an intriguing clue. Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., Obama’s ambassador to Turkey, revealed that the U.S. had secretly offered Turkey what was, in effect, a bin Laden-style assassination of the top leadership of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the rebels who have been fighting the U.S.-equipped Turkish army since 1984.

“Your enemies are our enemies,” Ricciardone told Turkish reporters at a news conference in Ankara. “The power of the multidisciplinary approach is what got bin Laden in the end, and we would like to share that and exploit that intimately.”

When I heard the ambassador’s remarks, I had just left Syria, where a different Kurdish group is struggling for its own autonomy. I was en route at the time to Mt. Qandhil, one of the highest mountains in neighboring Iraq, where PKK rebels have a sanctuary. I was seeking reaction to news that Turkey was quietly negotiating with Abdullah Ocalan, the notorious PKK founder who was captured in 1999 with U.S. assistance, and who since then, has become a cause célèbre with many Kurds in the Middle East.

The 28-year-old Kurdish uprising in Turkey has resulted in 40,000 deaths, most of them Kurds. The U.S. considers the PKK a terrorist group, but experts say both the rebels and Turkish troops have committed human rights abuses. Today, the struggle goes beyond military conflict. Since 2009, some 8,000 Kurdish civilians have been arrested in Turkey. That includes lawyers and at least 100 journalists — more than in Iran or China.

This fall, some 700-1,000 prisoners went on hunger strike in Turkey, demanding that Ocalan be removed from solitary confinement and that Kurds receive broadcasting rights, education in their native tongue and ethnic recognition in the Turkish constitution. Turkey claims that most of the prisoners have ties to the PKK, but according to Human Rights Watch, many Kurds were arrested in a “crackdown on legal pro-Kurdish politics.”

Against this backdrop came Ambassador Ricciardone’s startling disclosure: the administration’s misguided proposal to target the Kurdish rebel leadership. In fact, the PKK is not al-Qaeda, nor has it targeted Americans — and Turkey wisely rejected the U.S. offer. [Continue reading...]

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Violence dims hope of solution to Turkish Kurd conflict

Reuters reports: Images of smiling Kurdish MPs hugging rebels, rifles slung over their shoulders, at a remote roadblock in Turkey’s mountainous southeast hit a raw nerve.

The embrace, depicted in Turkish newspapers as battles raged with government troops, fed a climate of animosity which is undermining hopes of a revival of secret talks to end a 28-year-old separatist conflict.

Escalating violence could instead now entrench a primarily military response from Ankara to an insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people. Nine Turkish police and soldiers were killed over the weekend in clashes with Kurdish rebels.

The roadside meeting came as Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels, inspired by the growing influence of an allied Kurdish group in Syria, laid siege to Turkey’s mountainous district of Semdinli bordering Iraq and Iran.

“It is a vicious cycle,” said Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Whenever there is a spike in violence, Turkey’s willingness to consider a political solution becomes weaker.”

Ankara sees the hand of Damascus in the PKK’s new found energy, accusing it of arming the rebels and allowing a PKK-linked party to control parts of Syria to prevent locals joining the 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

“The PKK has been excited by the developments in Syria and is trying to prove its worth and credibility by trying to take parts of Turkish territory, however temporarily,” Cagaptay said.

In a show of strength, the PKK has set up roadblocks and kidnapped Turkish officials and is believed to be behind recent deadly bomb attacks on the western coast of Turkey and in the city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border.

“The aim of these acts is to show that no place in Turkey is safe, that they are capable of spreading terrorism to every region…and prove their control and influence,” said retired major general Armagan Kuloglu, an analyst at a think-tank in Ankara.

He said the attacks were aimed to sow discord between Kurds and Turks. The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, had little prospect of drawing Ankara back to the negotiating table with such a strategy.

Talking to the PKK was long unpalatable to Turkish public opinion. While recordings leaked last year from secret meetings in Oslo between the intelligence service and the outlawed group suggested times may have changed, that window for negotiations may be closing. [Continue reading...]

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Turkey: 115 Kurdish rebels killed in offensive

The Associated Press reports: Turkey’s security forces have killed as many as 115 Kurdish rebels during a major security offensive over the past two weeks, the country’s interior minister said Sunday.

Idris Naim Sahin said the rebels were killed in an airpower backed offensive near the town of Semdinli, in Hakkari province which sits on the border with Iraq. He said the offensive began on July 23.

Sahin provided few other details on the ongoing operation but said the security forces were trying to block the rebels’ escape routes into northern Iraq.

Private NTV television said earlier that as many as 2,000 troops were taking part in the offensive and that public access to some roads in the area were blocked.

Earlier Sunday, Kurdish rebels raided three military posts in simultaneous attacks in Hakkari, sparking a clash at one paramilitary outpost that left six soldiers and 14 rebels dead. Two government-paid village guards assisting the Turkish military were also killed.

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Video: Al Jazeera interviews Kurdish president Massoud Barzani

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In uprooting of Kurds, Iraq tests a fragile national unity

The New York Times reports: In January, the dismembered body of Wisam Jumai, a Kurdish intelligence officer, was discovered in a field in Sadiyah, a small town in northeastern Iraq. Soon his family and friends, one after another, received text messages offering a choice: leave or be killed.

“Wisam has been killed,” read one message sent to a cousin. “Wait for your turn. If you want your life, leave Sadiyah.”

After Mr. Jumai’s killing, nearly three dozen Kurdish families fled their homes and moved here, according to local officials, to the sanctuary of a city that is claimed by the government in Baghdad but patrolled by Kurdish forces. Other Kurds from the area have come here after being pushed out over property disputes that can be traced to Saddam Hussein’s policy in the 1970s of expelling Kurds and resettling Arabs.

Whether by terrorism or judicial order, the continuing displacement of Iraq’s Kurdish minority lays bare the unfinished business of reconciliation in the wake of the American military’s withdrawal, and it is a symptom of the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the semiautonomous Kurdish government based in Erbil and the central government in Baghdad.

The schism, which is most immediately over sharing oil wealth but is more deeply about historical grievances and Kurdish aspirations for independence, raises serious questions about the future of a unified Iraq. The crisis, American officials say, is far more grave than the political tensions between the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and the country’s Sunni Arab minority set off by an arrest warrant on terrorism charges issued in December for Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president.

The Kurds, unlike the Sunnis, have their own security forces, oil reserves, ports of entry and even their own de facto foreign policy, with envoys operating in other countries. This could eventually lead them to seek more independence from Baghdad.

“Fearing a resurgence of a strong central state, Kurdish leaders want to leave Iraq, and they appear to believe their moment to do so may soon arrive,” wrote Joost Hiltermann, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, in a recent report.

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Turkey may launch ground offensive into northern Iraq at any time

Today’s Zaman reports:

Turkey said on Tuesday that its military may launch a ground offensive against terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq at any time in accordance with ongoing talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials as part of cooperation against the PKK.

Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin said in response to questions from reporters as to whether Turkey is pondering a ground operation in northern Iraq that talks with the Kurdish regional administration in northern Iraq are still under way and that a cross-border ground offensive could be launched at any time just like aerial strikes. In August, the Turkish military launched aerial attacks on PKK targets in northern Iraq, killing up to 160 terrorists.

The PKK uses its bases in northern Iraq to launch attacks on Turkey. Its Iranian wing, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), is also involved in clashes with Iranian forces.

Last week, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu travelled to Iraq and discussed the issue of the fight against terrorism, as well as bilateral and regional issues, with Iraqi Kurdish officials. Sinirlioğlu’s visit to Iraq comes amid a surge in PKK attacks on Turkish troops. Dozens of troops were killed in PKK attacks over the past couple of months.

The Turkish daily newspaper also reports:

Leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has demanded an apology from Israel for helping the capture of PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan back in 1999 after reports that Israel may use the PKK against Turkey in the face of increasing tensions between the two countries.

Karayılan’s remarks came three days after a report suggesting that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman offered to hold meetings with leaders of the PKK in response to Turkey’s sanctions on Israel due to its refusal to apologize for flotilla deaths.

Karayılan told pro-PKK Firat news agency on Monday that the PKK is a “principled organization” and that it is not a movement that “could be used against any state.”

Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday that the hawkish Israeli foreign minister had been planning to meet with PKK leaders in Europe to discuss cooperation with the terrorist group in every possible way. Lieberman has been planning a series of measures to retaliate against Turkey over an apology row, including providing military aid to the outlawed PKK, the daily said.

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Before Iraq election, Arab and Kurd tensions soar in the north

Christian Science Monitor reports:

In a sign of heightened Arab-Kurd tension along a disputed boundary just days from Iraq elections, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan says the governor of the adjoining Arab-majority province will be arrested if he enters Kurdish-controlled areas.

In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor at his mountaintop headquarters in northern Iraq, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani described Ninevah governor Atheel al-Nujaifi as a “criminal” and said a warrant would be issued for his arrest in connection with an incident this month involving US forces.

He also said Nujaifi had failed to secure the provincial capital of Mosul. Mr. Barzani offered to bring up to 2,000 Christian university students from the troubled city to Kurdistan to continue their studies. At least eight Christians have been killed in the last two weeks in Mosul in the latest wave of attacks on minorities.

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U.S. adviser to Kurds stands to reap oil profits

U.S. adviser to Kurds stands to reap oil profits

Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution — tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.

Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.

In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region — rather than the central Baghdad government — sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory.

Mr. Galbraith, widely viewed in Washington as a smart and bold foreign policy expert, has always described himself as an unpaid adviser to the Kurds, although he has spoken in general terms about having business interests in Kurdistan, as the north of Iraq is known.

So it came as a shock to many last month when a group of Norwegian investigative journalists at the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv began publishing documents linking Mr. Galbraith to a specific Norwegian oil company with major contracts in Iraq.

Interviews by The New York Times with more than a dozen current and former government and business officials in Norway, France, Iraq, the United States and elsewhere, along with legal records and other documents, reveal in considerable detail that he received rights to an enormous stake in at least one of Kurdistan’s oil fields in the spring of 2004. [continued...]

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Kurdish rebels surrender as Turkey reaches out

Kurdish rebels surrender as Turkey reaches out

In the first concrete sign that months of efforts by Turkey’s government to end a 25-year Kurdish insurgency could bear fruit, eight Kurdish rebels crossed over the border from Iraq on Monday to give themselves up.

Accompanied by 26 Kurdish villagers who fled Turkey more than a decade ago, the members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, were detained by police and taken in for questioning by Turkish prosecutors.

Though not the first time such a gesture has been made, it comes months into what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described as his government’s “democratic opening” to Turkey’s Kurdish population, who make up about a fifth of Turkey’s 70 million inhabitants. The PKK has fought a guerrilla war aimed at separating Kurdish areas from the rest of Turkey. Tens of thousands of people, mostly Kurds, have been killed since the fighting began in 1984. [continued...]

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Former US diplomat holds secret stake in Kurdish oil field

Former US diplomat holds secret stake in Kurdish oil field

It is widely known that the former US diplomat Peter Galbraith has been one of the most prominent figures in shaping the state structure of Iraq in the period after 2003, especially with his vocal advocacy of various forms of radical decentralisation and/or partition solutions for Iraq’s political problems that are reflected in his books and numerous articles in the New York Review of Books, especially in the period from 2004 to 2008. Until now, though, it has generally been assumed that Galbraith’s fervent pro-partition propaganda was rooted in an ideological belief in national self-determination and a principled view of radical federalism as the best option for Iraq’s Kurds. Many have highlighted Galbraith’s experience as a former US diplomat (especially in the Balkans in the 1990s) as key elements of his academic and policy-making credentials.

Today, however, it has emerged that the realities were probably rather different. For some time, Norway’s most respected financial newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv (DN), has been focusing on the operations of DNO, a small Norwegian private oil company in Kurdistan, especially reporting on unclear aspects concerning share ownership and its contractual partnerships related to the Tawke field in the Dahuk governorate. One particular goal has been to establish the identity of a hitherto unknown “third party” which participated with DNO in the initial production sharing agreement (PSA) for Tawke between 2004 and 2008, but was squeezed out when this deal was converted to a new contract in early 2008, prompting a huge financial claim of around 500 million US dollars against DNO which has yet to be settled. Today, DN claims to present proof that one of the two major “mystery stake-holders” involved in the claim was none other than Peter Galbraith, who allegedly held a five-percent share in the PSA for Tawke from June 2004 until 2008 through his Delaware-based company Porcupine. Galbraith’s partner was the Yemenite multi-millionaire Shahir Abd al-Haqq, whose identity was revealed by the same newspaper earlier this month. DN has published documents from Porcupine showing Galbraith’s personal signature, and today’s reports are complete with paparazzi photographs of Galbraith literally running away from reporters as they confront him in Bergen, where he is currently staying with his Norwegian wife. He refused to give any comment citing potential legal complications. [continued...]
(H/t to Helena Cobban.)

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Iraq attacks raise fears of renewed ethnic tensions

Iraq attacks raise fears of renewed ethnic tensions

A string of bombings in northern Iraq and Baghdad that has killed at least 112 people in the last several days, including 60 on Monday, has raised fears that insurgent groups are embarking on a sustained attempt to kindle ethnic and sectarian warfare.

The toll since Friday represents the worst surge of violence since U.S. troops handed over security in urban areas to Iraqi security forces on June 30.

The attacks serve as a reminder that although the U.S. military says it is on track to complete the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq by next August, the potential for fresh conflict between Arabs and Kurds in the north, and Sunnis and Shiites elsewhere, remains very real. [continued...]

Sectarian bombings pulverize a village in Iraq

The entire village was gone. Local television broadcast scenes of homes reduced to heaps of rubble mixed with bed frames, mattresses, furniture and bloodstained pillows. A villager cried into the camera, “Look, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Interior Minister, where is the security that you speak about?”

The latest wave of sectarian bombings struck northern Iraq and Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 50 people, wounding hundreds more and leveling the village, near Mosul.

Nearly 100 people in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul have been killed in attacks since Friday, raising grave concerns about the Iraqi government’s ability to maintain security. [continued...]

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Kurdish faultline threatens to spark new war

Kurdish faultline threatens to spark new war

It is called the “trigger line”, a 300-mile long swathe of disputed territory in northern Iraq where Arab and Kurdish soldiers confront each other, and which risks turning into a battlefield. As the world has focused on the US troop withdrawal from Iraq, and the intensifying war in Afghanistan, Arabs and Kurds in Iraq have been getting closer to an all out war over control of the oil-rich lands stretching from the borders of Syria in the west to Iran in the east.

The risk of armed conflict is acute because the zone in dispute is a mosaic of well-armed communities backed by regular forces. Kurdish and Arab soldiers here watch each other’s movements with deepest suspicion in case the other side might attempt to establish new facts on the ground. It is to avert a new armed conflict breaking out between the powerful military forces on both sides that Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, travelled to Kurdistan for crisis talks last week with Kurdish leaders, Iraq’s (Kurdish) President, Jalal Talabani, and the President of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani. Mr Maliki and Mr Barzani had not met for a year during which their exchanges have been barbed and aggressive. [continued...]

Bombs targeting Shiites in Iraq kill at least 48

A double truck bombing tore through the village of a small Shiite ethnic minority near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, while nine blasts wracked Baghdad in a wave of violence Monday that killed at least 48 people and wounded more than 250, Iraqi officials said.

The attacks provided a grim example of U.S. military warnings that insurgents are targeting Shiites in an effort to re-ignite the kind of sectarian violence that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007.

The U.S. military has stressed that despite the rise in attacks, the Shiites are showing restraint and not retaliating as they did more than two years ago when a similar series of attacks and bombings provoked a Shiite backlash that degenerated into a sectarian slaughter claiming tens of thousands of lives. [continued...]

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After Kurdish vote, Talabani pledges to rebuild party

After Kurdish vote, Talabani pledges to rebuild party

Facing what could prove a turning point in tumultuous Kurdish politics, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani vowed Tuesday that he would lead the revival of his party after a surprisingly successful challenge by opponents in last week’s election led some to speculate that it might be the beginning of the party’s end.

In an interview, Talabani, the 75-year-old politician and former guerrilla who founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) more than 30 years ago, sought to cast the election results in the best light. But the success of the Change list, led by former Talabani colleagues , against an alliance of the PUK and the other leading Kurdish party clearly surprised him.

More than a contest among parochial groups in a relatively quiet region, the struggle for political power in the Kurdish north could have sweeping repercussions for Iraq’s mercurial politics. The alliance between Talabani’s party and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party has held for years, though no one has really forgotten the civil war they fought in the 1990s. Their claim to represent Kurdish consensus is crucial, too, in negotiations with Baghdad over today’s most pressing issues: a law to share Iraq’s oil revenue and a resolution to the disputed border between Iraq’s Arab and Kurdish regions. [continued...]

Iraq force soon to be a coalition of one

Commanders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, as the American-led coalition is formally called, have a looming nomenclature problem.

Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq — no “multi” in the Multi-National Force. As Iraqi forces have increasingly taken the lead, the United States is the last of the “coalition of the willing” that the Bush administration first brought together in 2003.

That is partly because the Iraqi Parliament left suddenly for summer recess without voting to extend an agreement for the British military to keep a residual training force of 100 soldiers in Iraq. As a result, those troops must withdraw to Kuwait by Friday, according to a British diplomat, who declined to be identified in keeping with his government’s practice.

As for the other two small remnants of the coalition, the Romanians and Australians, the Australians will be gone by July 31, too, and the Romanians left last Thursday, according to the Romanian chargé d’affaires, Cristian Voicu. NATO will keep a small training presence in Iraq, but its troops were never considered part of the Multi-National Force because of opposition to the war from many NATO countries. [continued...]

Gates: Some US troops may be leaving Iraq early

The United States is considering speeding up its withdrawal from Iraq because of the sustained drop in violence there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday following discussions with his top commanders in the war.

“I think there’s at least some chance of a modest acceleration,” this year, Gates said.

It was the first suggestion that the Obama administration might rethink its difficult choice to leave a heavy fighting force in Iraq long past the election of an American president who opposed the war. [continued...]

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