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The Disco Before the Breakdown

So things may not be so great in Iraq after all: suicide bombing is back, crucial reconciliation measures appear to be a hoax, the U.S. is bombing neighborhoods it once called success stories, and there are a ton of Sunni militiamen standing outside the political process, waiting to see if the Shiite-controlled government will embrace them. But at least the multiethnic, oil-rich city of Kirkuk hasn’t exploded, right? That’s something, huh? Bill Kristol, I see you nodding.

Well, just wait six months. Last year, the Kurds and the Baghdad government—both of whom claim Kirkuk and tedt other northern Iraqi areas as their own—agreed to delay a constitutionally-guaranteed referendum on the future of Kirkuk and other cities. That’s been the U.S.’s preferred strategy since the occupation began in 2003: finality over the status of Kirkuk-plus will lead whoever loses the referendum (probably the Baghdad government) to start shooting. The hope among everyone but the Kurds, who call Kirkuk their Jerusalem, is that they can punt the Kirkuk issue downfield forever. But Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish president/warlord, says there’s no way he’ll accept another delay, according to Ned Parker in the LAT:"Iraqi Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani fired back at his Arab opponents who argued that Kirkuk—a home to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens—is no longer subject to an article in the Iraqi Constitution calling for a general referendum on disputed territories to be held by the end of 2007.There is no turning back,” Barzani said in Irbil. The referendum must be conducted in the next six months.

Last week, the Kurdish-dominated provincial council in Kirkuk declared that if the referendum doesn’t happen by June 1, the Kurds have the right to take the city by force.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole translates reports from the Arabic press saying that Arab political parties in Baghdad have formed what the Kurds see as an anti-Kurdish alliance to deny them Kirkuk. It says a lot about Iraq that the only cross-sectarian coalitions to emerge are threatening to other sectarian interests.

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