Monday, February 19, 2007

Perspective: In northern Iraq, another war looms

KIRKUK, Iraq - While the world focuses on Baghdad's security, a series of bombings here may be the long-feared start of a second deadly war in Iraq - this one between Kurds and Arabs, both with claims on a territory atop one of the world's largest oil reserves.

If the escalating violence in Kirkuk erupts into all-out fighting between heavily armed Kurdish and Arab groups, it could spark a wider conflict involving Turkey or Iran. That risk puts the United States in a bind, caught between ally Turkey, which is on the side of Arabs and ethnic Turkomen here, and the Kurds, another strong U.S. ally.

The issue is coming to a head because of a provision in the Iraqi constitution that calls for a referendum by year's end on Kirkuk's future. Arabs and Turkomen, backed by Turkey, want to put the vote off - worried about Kurdish dominance and more violence if the referendum is held and Kurds win.

But Kurds are determined to press ahead. They deny it's because of the black gold in the ground.

"We will have Kirkuk - not for its oil, but because it is our history," said Rizgar Ali Hamajan, a Kurd who is chief of the local provincial council.

Read the rest at the San Jose Mercury News