Fixing security in Kirkuk

Kurdish security forces at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kirkuk Kurdish security forces at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kirkuk © Financial Times

This article is a brief presentation of “Iraq: fixing security in Kirkuk” by the International Crisis Group

The new report of the International Crisis Group focuses on disputed areas within Iraq  along the internal border between the Kurdistan region and the remainder of the country. The legal status of these territories has long been subject to tensions between  Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil and Baghdad.

The report describes the situation in the disputed Kirkuk governorate from  June 2014, when the Islamic State (IS) entered the  governorate, until the latest crisis in October 2017, when the Iraqi army restored its control over the area  and its oil fields. 

After having defeated the Iraqi army, IS took control over Erbil and its outskirts in June 2014. Kurdish peshmerga, military fighters guarding the Kurdish region held off IS for three years with the support of Iran and the United States-led International coalition. To formalize  its  control over the Kirkuk province and other disputed areas (which also host  populations of  ethnic Arabs, Turkmen and other  minorities), the KRG called for an independence referendum at the end of September 2017, ignoring the international advice to postpone such. The neighbouring countries Iran and Turkey, which also have Kurdish populations, opposed the result and backed Baghdad’s troops in their endeavours to recapture  Kirkuk. However, following the referendum, federal forces recaptured parts of Kirkuk province in October 2017 based on a previous agreement with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Following the withdrawal of the Kurdish troops, the federal government temporarily appointed a member of the Arab population as governor of Kirkuk. However, the control over Kirkuk and its oil fields fuelled intercommunal tensions and sparked an intra-Kurdish crisis between the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). To defuse the tensions, the government established a joint operations command in Kirkuk to fix security gaps that IS can exploit, but the Kurdish peshmerga were prevented from taking up posts inside and outside governorate. In early 2019, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) facilitated talks between Kirkuki provincial council members and parliamentarians from Baghdad to reach an agreement on security and governance. Negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil stalled soon as Arab and the Turkmen, who preferred the national army,  rejected the Kurdish peshmerga’s return to the province. Resulting, the insecurity and political turmoil continue to persist in Kirkuk with the situation being  further complicated by the meddling of external  actors, such as the foreign powers Iran, Turkey and the United States.

The report further highlights that fixing security in Kirkuk should continue to be an immediate priority and provides  two suggestions  for new agreements between the Kurdish region and the federal government: the first includes a joint Kurdish-federal mechanism;  the second is based on a multi-ethnic force model. The second suggestion appears to be most suitable to calm the tensions caused by the government’s withdrawal from UNAMI-led discussions in 2019. Yet, the report concludes that the second option is “impossible under current conditions in Baghdad. It would require both a legal framework and substantially greater financial resources”. As it is necessary to urgently take immediate steps to address security dysfunctions in Kirkuk, the report recommends that Baghdad pursue now the first option,  while laying the groundwork for the second

The International Crisis Group further suggests that the federal government and KRG work together in a comprehensive manner for a new arrangement by involving local communities. Arab and Turkmen leaders are opposed to the old joint mechanism security as they say it relied too much on the Kurdish peshmerga, but at the same time, excluding the Kurdish from the joint Erbil-Baghdad security management is not a viable option. The report highlights that the omnipresence of security forces hardly reassure civilians -armed men with various  uniforms cause confusion to which force has jurisdiction in the governorate. As the governorate is ethnically mixed, the report strongly encourages establishing a multi-ethnic force which  can operate in rural areas and routes connecting district centres. Moreover, a multi-ethnic force could better manage communal tensions and would be able to strengthen the link between the federal government and the governorate. Concluding, the international community, including the United Nations and the U.S.-led coalition forces should encourage talks between Baghdad and Erbil to achieve the creation of a non-partisan force to achieve a sustainable  peace in Kirkuk.  


To learn more, please read:


Author: Silvia Luminati

Read 147 times