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Argument: The Kurds would not seek to establish a non-viable Kurdish state

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The third major concern about a post-occupation Iraq—although it gets less attention than it deserves—is the possibility of a crisis triggered by a Kurdish power grab in Kirkuk, the city at the heart of Iraq’s northern oil fields. Since 2003, the Kurds have been waging a systematic, ugly round of ethnic cleansing, packing Kirkuk with Kurds, kidnapping or driving out Arab residents (many of them settled there by Saddam), and stacking the city council with Kurdish partisans.
Though Kurdish Iraq is mostly quiet and relatively prosperous under the Kurdistan Regional Government that controls three northeastern provinces, the Kurds may be tempted to expand their territory and secede from Iraq. Under the occupation-imposed constitution, the Kurds have the right to hold a referendum in Kirkuk later this year that would probably put that oil-rich area under the control of the KRG; the Baker-Hamilton ISG called the referendum “explosive” and recommended that it be postponed. Alternatively, the Kurds might opt to take advantage of the Sunni-Shiite civil war to seize Kirkuk by force. Either way, most Kurds know that a Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk is an essential precondition for their ultimate independence from Iraq.
It’s hard to exaggerate the dangers inherent in a Kurdish grab for Kirkuk. Such a move would inflame Iraq’s Arab population (both Sunnis and Shiites), impinge on other minorities (including Turkmen and Christians), and provoke an outburst of ethnic cleansing in the city. Iraq’s two-sided civil war would become a three-sided affair.
But although this scenario sounds alarming, the reality is that, in the event of an American withdrawal, the Kurds would find it exceedingly difficult either to take Kirkuk or to declare independence. An independent Kurdistan would be landlocked, surrounded by hostile nations, and would possess a weak paramilitary army incapable of matching Iran, Arab Iraq, or Turkey. If Kurdistan were to secede without gaining Kirkuk’s oil, it would not be an economically viable nation. Even with the oil, the Kurds would have to depend on pipelines through Iraq and Turkey to export any significant amount. Nor would Turkey, with its large Kurdish minority, stand for a breakaway Kurdish state, and the Kurds know that the Turkish armed forces would overwhelm them.
Conversely, under the U.S. occupation—or, perhaps, because of it—the Kurds apparently feel emboldened to press their advantage in Kirkuk, despite the dire consequences. And if the United States were to adopt the idea floated by some in Washington of building permanent bases in Kurdistan, it would embolden the Kurds further. (The threat of a Turkish invasion is the chief deterrent to any move by the Kurds against Kirkuk, but as long as the United States maintains a presence in Kurdistan, the Turks will be reluctant to check the Kurds, for fear of running into U.S. troops.) Thus, by staying or by creating bases in Kurdistan, the United States is more likely to foster a Kurdish-Arab civil war in Iraq."
  • Robert Dreyfuss. "Apocalypse Not". Washington Monthly. March, 2007 - "It’s hard to exaggerate the dangers inherent in a Kurdish grab for Kirkuk. Such a move would inflame Iraq’s Arab population (both Sunnis and Shiites), impinge on other minorities (including Turkmen and Christians), and provoke an outburst of ethnic cleansing in the city. Iraq’s two-sided civil war would become a three-sided affair.
But although this scenario sounds alarming, the reality is that, in the event of an American withdrawal, the Kurds would find it exceedingly difficult either to take Kirkuk or to declare independence. An independent Kurdistan would be landlocked, surrounded by hostile nations, and would possess a weak paramilitary army incapable of matching Iran, Arab Iraq, or Turkey. If Kurdistan were to secede without gaining Kirkuk’s oil, it would not be an economically viable nation. Even with the oil, the Kurds would have to depend on pipelines through Iraq and Turkey to export any significant amount. Nor would Turkey, with its large Kurdish minority, stand for a breakaway Kurdish state, and the Kurds know that the Turkish armed forces would overwhelm them."

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