The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Iran aren’t the only players trying to bite off a piece of the Arab League’s fourth most populous country this week. Yesterday, Kurdish fighters took over Kirkuk and looted Iraqi army bases in the city.
The sometimes-disputed northern city is a center of Iraq’s oil industry and isn’t far from one of the country’s three functioning oil refineries.
In a symbol of Iraq’s flagging viability as a coherent national entity, Kurdish militants removed the Iraqi flag from public spaces and replaced it with Kurdish ones:
The area under the control of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been one of the more stable and prosperous places in the Middle East in the decade after the U.S. invasion of the country. Oil revenues, surprisingly strong relations with Turkey, a battle-hardened and highly motivated Kurdish military, the relative absence of sectarianism, and a history of local self-governance and stability have made the KRG the one part of Iraq that seems to be working.
So the Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk could be construed as a positive development, at least in the short-run. As this map demonstrates, the city is a major transit-point for oil from Iraq’s north and is the origin of the region’s one remaining pipeline that doesn’t cross into ISIS-held territory:
But this is also the second time this week that sectarian or ethnic fighters have triumphed over Iraq’s uniformed military. The country barely seems viable as a growing concern. Yesterday, journalist and former Iraq war reporter Michael Totten raised the possibility that “In the future we might see the events of the last few days as the beginning of the end of Iraq as a state.”
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