Mr. Big takes a vacation
What a coincidence: A day after Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq and head of the party governing Kurdistan, is flown to a hospital in Jordan, Iraq and Turkey agree to postpone the referendum on the status of Kirkuk.
Originally mandated by the 2005 constitution to take place by the end of this year, the referendum has the potential to feed the violence in and around Kirkuk. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Ba'ath government drove out Kurds there and moved in Iraqi Arabs; after the U.S. invasion, Kurds moved back in large numbers, amid attacks on Arabs. In the last year, in anticipation of the referendum, Kurds have intensified their re-population of the city, but attacks and bombings against them have also risen. Turkmens have also suffered attacks; they are a small but significant percentage of the population in Kirkuk.
Now the referendum might not take place for two years. This news comes on the heels of reports that the Kurdish parties have signed off on the new oil law that hands Iraq's reserves over to the oil majors on a platter. The Kurds were the last obstacle; the Iraqi cabinet approved the law yesterday. Did I mention that most of the oil in northern Iraq is near Kirkuk?
A recent profile of Talabani by Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker, 'Mr. Big' [apparently not online], begins by describing how he goes into seclusion during crises. This flight to Jordan sounds like more of the same, as both the approval of the oil law and the postponement of the Kirkuk referendum are serious concessions/defeats for the Kurds.