theguardian.com Thursday 26 June 2014
Martin Chulov in Baghdad, and Fazel Hawramy in Irbil
As Iraq's government teeters before Isis insurgents, the Kurds now control the oil hub of Kirkuk – and have national ambitions
|Tensions are high in Kirkuk after control of the historic Iraqi city was taken over by the Kurds after the Iraqi army abandoned its positions. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images|
Iraqis in Baghdad and the country's south are already calling the events of the past two weeks "the catastrophe". Not so inhabitants of the would-be Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil, where joy is unrestrained and a long-held sense of destiny is ever closer to being realised.
As the central government teeters under the insurgent onslaught, the fate of Irbil appears more assured than ever. Kurdish politicians, in the past not shy to criticise Arab Iraqi leaders, but coy about their national ambitions, are now openly touting "a new reality".
To Kurdish officials and locals alike, a tectonic shift in the balance of power between Iraq's two power bases, and peoples, has taken place. And Kirkuk, the bitterly contested oil hub, is at the epicentre.
Safeen Dizayee, Kurdish regional government (KRG) spokesman, was at pains on Wednesday to highlight the region's resources. "In the governorates under KRG administration, vast quantities of natural resources have been discovered over the last few years – estimates point to more than 45bn barrels of oil and significant quantities of natural gas.
The Kurdistan region has already landed on the global energy map. Regarding the so-called disputed territories, Peshmerga forces have entered these areas after the Iraqi army abandoned their positions. The KRG had and still has an obligation to protect civilians in these areas and to ensure that army bases, cities, and land areas do not fall into the hands of terrorists.
Aref Maroof, 52, a Kirkuk school inspector, said: "I think 85-90% of Kurds want independence. Kurdistan has two options; one is to declare independence without 'separated territories' [disputed territories] in which case it will fail, or to declare independence by including the 'separated territories' in which case the Kurds will face a war with [Nouri al-]Maliki.
"It is in the interest of Kurds (to do so) if the central government and its army is weak. (But) If the KRG assists Iraq ... to rebuild their army, it is like committing suicide."
In Baghdad, a sense of gloom pervades many in government who see little chance of shifting the Kurds from Kirkuk, or even defending their interests while an insurgency and political crisis rages.
"They are getting what they want," said one minister. "While Baghdad burns, and while we all sit back and watch the fire."
Jeremiah predicted the cities of Babylon would burn, the reconstructionists would abandon the land, and then war would break out between the Chaldeans -- the Arab Iraqis -- and the Medes -- the modern-day Kurds. "While Baghdad burns." That may happen most literally. Once it does, the One who has tried to "heal" Babylon will announce he is abandoning her, leaving her to her judgment. Then comes the war, defeat and plunder at the hands of the "kings of the Medes" -- the Kurds. Then a catastrophic flood, drought, and eventual "perpetual desolation."
It is a judgment from God. Flee from the midst of Babylon, so as to escape the coming calamity.