Signs of Iraq's Kurds going their own way raise worries among Shiites and Sunnis

Signs of Iraq's Kurds going their own way raise worries among Shiites and Sunnis
October 6th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Signs of Iraq's Kurds going their own way raise worries among Shiites and Sunnis

Signs of Iraq's Kurds going their own way raise worries among Shiites and Sunnis
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 06 October 2006

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq_With violence bloodying Iraq, Kurds in the peaceful north
have been showing signs of going their own way, raising their own flag and
even dropping veiled hints of secession if Baghdad doesn't recognize their
rights in their region's oil wealth.

The moves have alarmed Shiite and Sunnis, and Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice's visit to Kurdistan on Friday underlined American worries that Kurds
may be pushing too hard too soon for autonomy powers at a time of increasing
sectarian tensions.

Kurds insist they are only using the autonomous powers that are given to
them in the constitution passed last year that laid down a federal system in
Iraq. But many of those powers _ particularly the division of oil wealth _
remain vague.

Some Shiites are also pressing for their own autonomous region in the south,
but even mere talk of federalism now _ amid a wave of Shiite-Sunni violence
that has killed thousands this year _ has hiked fears of the country falling

"I warn those who back federal regions," a top Sunni Arab cleric, Harith
al-Obeidi, said in his prayer sermon Friday in a Baghdad mosque. "They
should think about security in Baghdad before claiming that federalism will
provide security for the regions. ... Federalism in its current form will
lead to the division of Iraq."

Sunnis in particular worry that a break-up of the country will create strong
Shiite and Kurdish regions in the south and north _ where Iraq's oil wealth
is concentrated _ and leave Sunnis in an impoverished central zone with no

Backing for independence has always been strong in the autonomous zone in
Iraq's northernmost three provinces, where the majority of the country's 5
million Kurds live. They have enjoyed self-rule since 1991.

While much of the rest of Iraq has been torn by violence, Kurdistan has
remained largely at peace. Sunni and Shiite Arabs who want to enter
Kurdistan must go through elaborate permit procedures _ still, many have
flocked there seeking jobs in one of Iraq's few areas that sees significant
private investment.

Kurdistan's president, Massoud Barzani, sparked an outcry last month when he
ordered all Iraqi flags removed from government buildings in the region and
replaced with the Kurdistan flag _ a green, red and white tricolor with a
yellow sun.

The Kurdish flags remain in place, and Barzani refuses to raise the Iraqi
one _ a holdover from the rule of Saddam Hussein, who persecuted the
minority Kurds and Iraq's Shiite majority _ until a new national flag is
created representing all of the country's communities.

Kurdish oil deals have also raised concerns in Baghdad. The Kurdistan
government signed a series of agreements with foreign companies to develop
new oil fields this year. Over the summer, a Canadian-Turkish consortium
drilled a test well in the area of Taq Taq, between Sulaimaniyah and Irbil.

Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said the central government would review
contracts signed separately by the Kurdistan government _ drawing a sharp
warning from the region's prime minister, who said if Baghdad moves in on
Kurdish deals it would fuel independence sentiment.

"The people of Kurdistan chose to be in a voluntary union with Iraq on the
basis of the constitution," Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said in a
statement issued Sept. 28. "If Baghdad ministers refuse to abide by that
constitution, the people of Kurdistan reserve the right to reconsider our

At a press conference with Rice in the Kurdish city of Irbil, Barzani
underlined that Kurdistan, "like any other nation, has the right to
self-determination." However, he said he is committed to a "federal
democratic and pluralistic Iraq."

For her part, Rice told Barzani, "I appreciate also your important
participation in the process of national reconciliation."

Kurdish officials insisted they would move ahead with developing their oil
sector, arguing the constitution gives them the right to do so.

"We will continue in exploring the oil resources in Kurdistan in accordance
with articles in the constitution that allow each region to exploit its
resources," Kamal Kirkoukli, deputy president of the Kurdistan parliament,
told the Associated Press.

But the constitution remains vague on sharing oil wealth. It calls for a
fair distribution, but also gives regions a hand in developing new oil
fields. Parliament has been debating legislation on dividing oil wealth, but
has yet to pass a law.

Kirkoukli and other Kurdish officials dismissed worries among other Iraqis
of the Kurds pressing a bid to secede.

"This is nothing new ... They always accuse the Kurds that they want to
break up Iraq," said Saadi Ahmed Pira, the Irbil chief of the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan, one of the region's two main parties. "Today in the
Iraqi government, there are strange voices of Arab chauvinism and they
mirror the ideas of the previous Saddam government."

"The Kurds' decision not to withdraw from Iraq is not for the sake of the
Sunnis," he said, referring to Sunni worries over fragmentation. "In the
current political situation, the Kurds have chosen to live in a united
federal Iraq."

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