The Happy Arab News Service

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Other Jerusalem

The Economist admits that the tide may be flowing the Kurds' way in Kirkuk. The future of the city, called 'our Jerusalem' by Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd from Kirkuk, will be determined by a referendum on November 15th this year.

The referendum's exact terms have yet to be drafted. Among other things, the Kurds want to adjust the borders of Kirkuk province to bring back four Kurdish-populated towns (Chamchamal, Kalar, Tuz Kermatu and Kifri) which Saddam had put into other provinces to shift Kirkuk's demographic balance against the Kurds. They also want the Kurdish region to include a string of mostly Kurdish towns, in a loop running from Sinjar, west of (mainly Arab) Mosul, through Makhmur, south-west of Arbil, to Mandali in the south-east near the Iranian border. The Kurds' geographic borders, they say, should roughly follow the line of the Hamrin mountains.


Last week under threats from the Kurdish politicians to withdraw their support from the ruling coalition, the Iraqi government gave in and the Justice minister announced that the authorities in Kirkuk will soon start handing out forms for Arab families in Kirkuk willing to leave the city and return to their original homes in exchange for compensation of $15,000 and land. One Arab member of parliament says that 12,600 families, which means around 90,000 people, have already agreed to go.

The real Jerusalem may be as disputed as ever but the other Jerusalem seems to be finally getting its owner. One thousand and one things may still go wrong. Last week a truck bomber devastated a police station and a nearby school in Kirkuk. Yet with the presence of thousands of Peshmerga fighters in the city the Sunni insurgents should think twice before they decide that they want this war. A well disciplined and heavily armed force, many of Peshmergas are hardened veterans of earlier Kurdish uprisings and civil wars. This is no Mahdi army. And unlike crusaders from the West, these people are known as capable of being ultimately ruthless when provoked.

As the Iraqi government is caving in to the Kurdish demands, it's a safe bet that the question some people in Damascus, Tehran and Ankara are starting asking themselves, is - Which of us is going to be the next one?

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