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Crisis In Kirkuk « The Washington Independent

To expand on a point I raised in my just-published piece about the legacy of Sergio Vieira de Mello: today The New York Times takes a look at how desperate the situation is in Kirkuk, an oil-rich Iraqi city claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, all of whom are already battling for control. After importing tens of thousands of Kurds into Kirkuk to ensure victory in a much-delayed referendum about whether Baghdad or the Kurdish capital, Erbil, will control Kirkuk, the Kurds have also brought a fearsome goon squad called the Asaish to keep the Turkmen and the Arabs in line. The Kurds claim that the Asaish is backed by U.S. intelligence, according to the Times.

This is what passes for political discourse in Kirkuk:

It took only a few moments for the demonstrators to turn their fury on the Turkmens, whom they instantly blamed. One mistook a well-known Kurdish journalist, Yahya Barzanji, for a Turkmen correspondent, shouting, “He’s working for the Turkmens,” Mr. Barzanji recalled. A video captured the crowd furiously beating Mr. Barzanji, chanting: “Kill him! Kill him!”

Note how starkly the senior U.S. military commander in the city described the city’s tensions:

Colonel Paschal blames all the political parties for inflaming tensions to serve their interests. But he said it was difficult to comprehend the level of mistrust.

“Negotiations here are, ‘You give me everything I want, and I will walk away happy,’ ” he said. “It is hard for us to appreciate the level of ethnic hatred.”

Every time you hear someone denigrate the United Nations, remember that the only reason Kirkuk hasn’t descended into full-scale bloodletting is because the U.N. was able to persuade all sides not to go forward with the referendum, figuring that any qualitative change in the city’s ownership ahead of a cross-sectarian accord would mean total disaster. No one but the U.N. possessed the credibility to broker that deferral. And it may not yet hold.

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