Many connect US Defense Secretary’s sudden visit to Iraq with a new problem which has appeared in the US administration. The Pentagon has recently announced that the United States would accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn nation, although the situation in Iraq is far from being stable.
The US administration is particularly concerned about the Kurds’ claims for Iraqi oil wells. It is an open secret that Iraq’s Kurdish minority has been a staunch ally of the United States during the nation’s incursion in the country to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime.
On the one hand, Gates had to assure the puppet government in Baghdad of the USA’s intention to continue the strengthening of the Iraqi armed forces. On the other hand, he had to ask the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, not to demonstrate any separatist sentiments.
Iraqi Kurdistan consists of three northern provinces of the country. The region enjoys a very broad autonomy after the collapse of Hussein’s regime. Kurdistan has its own flag, anthem and even its own army.
As a matter of fact, Kurdistan’s position as a part of Iraq is relatively formal nowadays. No one doubts that the Kurds can declare independence at any moment, and Baghdad will not be able to interfere.
It is not happening yet, though. Saddam Hussein used to cut the borders of the autonomy as he excluded 16 districts from the territory, including the city of Kirkuk – the region, which gives one million barrels of oil daily.
Hussein intended to deprive the Kurds of the oil reserves. There were no oil works built in the region. The largest oil reserves on the outskirts of Kirkuk were taken away from the Kurds with the help of a relatively honest method: the Kurdish population was moved to the south of the country.
Nowadays, the Kurds want to have Kirkuk back. They want to make it the capital of their autonomy. Moreover, they want to have their all other territories back too. If they succeed, they will be able to declare the establishment of an independent state.
In the meantime, the Arabs, who live in the Kirkuk area, do not wish to discover one day that they became the citizens of the new independent Kurdish nation. Such a state would inevitably come into conflict with its neighbors – Turkey, Iran and Syria. The Kurds residing in those countries will most likely wish to join the new Kurdistan.
Experts say that such a development of the situation may result in an armed conflict. Its results, taking into consideration the weakness of the central government in Baghdad and the strength of the Kurdish resistance, are easy to predict.
Robert Gates said that the Arabs and the Kurds did not have much time to solve the conflict situation and offered his help at this point.
Gates told the reelected president of Iraqi Kurdistan that US troops would be staying in Iraq for three more years. He stated that a lot of people had lost their lives for the right to own the oil wells, and added that the USA was ready to act as a mediator.
Until recently, Masoud Barzani promised US officials that he would try to solve the conflict peacefully. However, it is difficult to predict whether peace is possible at all.