Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region are on the brink of a war, the Washington Post reported today. The opposing armies are massed on either side of the contested border. Even though the leaders in Baghdad and Erbil are negotiating a compromise, but their armies could be provoked into battle.
The latest issue dividing the two sides is Exxon Mobile and the contract the oil giant has signed with the Kurdish autonomous government to begin exploration for oil in blocks situated in Kirkuk region, a disputed territory at the heart of the current military standoff.
“The prime minister has been clear: If Exxon lays a finger on this territory, they will face the Iraqi army,” said Sami al-Askari, a member of parliament and confidant of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “We don’t want war, but we will go to war, for oil and for Iraqi sovereignty.” (The Washington Post, 18 December)
“We do not want war,” Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish government said in a recent speech to Pesh Mergas on the front lines. “But if war comes, then all Kurdish people are ready to fight.”
Going to war for oil is a familiar concept in the region. In this particular case, however, going to war for oil could lead to a civil war between a central government dominated by Iraqi Shia and the Kurds, a development that could destabilize the region, from Iraq to Turkey to Iran, and to Syria already in the midst of its own civil war.
On Thursday, with American assistance, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, brokered an agreement between Maliki and Barzani to form a committee to create a solution for security in disputed areas. But neither side has committed to military demobilization. Meanwhile, Talabani is in a coma after suffering a stroke on Monday.
Image credit: Iraqi map showing Kurdish and disputed regions. (The Washington Post)