Iraq-Kurd deal offers hope, but challenges remain

AP | Dec 15, 2012 | JORDAN TIMES

BAGHDAD — A deal brokered by Iraq’s president last week gives the central government and the Kurdish minority an opportunity to step back from a military standoff that has threatened to tip the country back into armed conflict just a year after the last American troops left.

The Kurds, a different ethnic group from Iraq’s majority Arabs, have their own armed fighters and enjoy considerable control over an increasingly prosperous enclave in Iraq’s mountainous north.

Thursday’s accord calls for the eventual withdrawal of Iraqi military and Kurdish fighters who in recent weeks moved into disputed areas where both seek to extend their influence.

There is no timetable governing the pullout of troops, tanks and artillery on either side, meaning tensions could quickly flare back up.

Distrust remains high, and the two sides are far from reaching a lasting deal over how to manage energy resources and divvy up the growing profits oil brings in.

“This is only the symptom,” Martin Kobler, the UN envoy to Iraq, said of the military standoff in an interview this week. “We have to go to the root. And the root is the Arab-Kurdish understanding. … Distribution of wealth in this country is distribution of power, period.”

The dispute that has played out over the past month shows just how unstable Iraq remains nearly a decade after the US-led invasion, and injects an added level of uncertainty into a Middle East grappling with the potential collapse of Syria, on Iraq’s doorstep.

A shootout between Iraqi police and Kurdish guards in the disputed northern city of Tuz Khormato kicked off the most recent bout of brinksmanship in mid-November. One civilian was killed and several police officers were wounded in the gun battle, the first deadly clash between the two sides in years.

Both sides responded by moving additional troops into the disputed areas. The build-up happened after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki created a new military command overseeing security forces in contested areas bordering the Kurdish region. Kurds saw that as a provocation.

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