The looming issue of Iraqi Kurdistan

July 22, 2009 at 5:51 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 22 (UPI) -- Ethnic divisions and territorial ambitions in the northern regions of Iraq are a greater challenge than immediate security and political concerns, analysts say.

Violence coinciding with a U.S. military troop drawdown in June has caused several observers to ponder the durability of post-American stability in Iraq.

But Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, warns simmering tensions between the Kurdish and Arab populations in Iraq pose a much greater threat to Iraq than short-term security concerns.

O'Hanlon, writing in the Washington Examiner, notes Kurds enjoy relative autonomy in their northern Iraqi provinces of Dahuk, Sulaimaniya and Erbil, with their own security force and regional government. At issue, however, are the so-called disputed territories that the Kurdish government hopes to annex from greater Iraq.

Iraqi and international negotiators have attempted to settle the issue of the disputed territories, but with little more than suggestions to show for their efforts.

O'Hanlon suggests giving the oil-rich city of Kirkuk a special designation, leaving Mosul to greater Iraq. He also calls for an international team to reconsider the de facto borders within Iraq.

Meanwhile, Kurds head to the polls Saturday to vote for provincial council leaders and for president. Some 40 different political factions are competing against a unified list of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

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