As Kurd and Arab clashes surge, a third war is looming in Iraq

When the Kurdish President, Massoud Barzani, banned the Iraqi flag from being flown on top of public buildings in Kurdistan this month, the Iraqi Kurds took a further symbolic step towards de facto independence. He justified the ban by saying "so many pogroms and mass-killings were committed in its name".

The Iraqi Kurds are not seeking statehood, calculating that this is not now in their interests, but they want a degree of autonomy that amounts almost to the same thing. "If there is no federal solution there is no hope for this country," Mr Barzani told The Independent in his mountain-top headquarters in Salahudin overlooking the Kurdish capital, Arbil.

Mr Barzani's refusal to allow the Iraqi flag to be hoisted was sharply criticised by politicians in Baghdad. The Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, produced a bizarre endorsement of his national emblem saying: "Not only the Kurds were slaughtered under this flag, but many Iraqis were slain under this flag. Iraq was slain under this flag."

But to many Arab Iraqis the flag means a lot. In Mosul, where Arabs and Kurds are in conflict, the mainly Arab police force went around insisting that shopkeepers and public buildings fly the Iraqi flag. A month later, street-sellers were doing a steady business selling miniature Iraqi flags to drivers.

The Kurdistan over which Mr Barzani rules is the only peaceful part of Iraq and has been so since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Made up of the three Kurdish provinces of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah, the enclave escaped rule from Baghdad in 1991 after the Kurdish uprising and was protected by US over-flights.

Arab Iraqis got used to the idea that this wholly Kurdish enclave known as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) enjoys semi-independence. But it is the Kurdish determination to allow Kurdish majority areas in the rest of northern Iraq, notably Kirkuk, to join the KRG that is leading to a deepening conflict between Arabs and Kurds on the ground.

Iraq is already the site of two wars, one between the Iraqi Sunni community and the US that started in 2003 and a second sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia Arabs that began in 2005. Iraq may now be beginning to suffer a third war, between Arabs and Kurds in the northern provinces.

This is because under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, agreed last year, the Kurds won the right to return to areas from which they have been driven for more than half a century. A census will then determine who lives where and, finally, a referendum must be held by the end of 2007, under which Kurdish areas can join the KRG.

The plan is having explosive consequences. Kurds claim to make up as much as a third of the 2.7 million population of Mosul province next door. They have an enclave at Khanaqin in Diyala province north-east of Baghdad. In many cases, the Kurdish and Arab populations are intertwined and animosity is increasing.

In Mosul city, some four or five Kurds are killed every day, the deputy governor, Khasro Goran, said. Seventy thousand Kurds have been forced to flee this year, mostly from Mosul city, he added. In Kirkuk, there is a surge in the bombings of Kurdish party headquarters and assassinations of Kurds. In Diyala, Baghdad and across central Iraq, Kurds are taking flight for the safety of the KRG.

Co-operation at ground level between Arab and Kurd is becoming more difficult. In Jalawla, a mixed town in Diyala province, Arab and Kurdish members of the local police fought a gun-battle last weekend. This was because an Arab police major had replaced a Kurdish one and the new police chief wanted to replace Kurdish rank-and-file with Arabs.

In theory, the Kurds and Arabs of northern Iraq will determine their future at the ballot-box. But the government in Baghdad is weak and it is difficult to see it organising both a census and a referendum it does not want. Mr Barzani is studiously polite about the Baghdad government, but he is clearly dubious about its authority. No doubt he is right in saying a new Iraq will be federal, but it may be the federalism decided by the gun rather than by the ballot-box.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain