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Crisis in Kirkuk

The Ethnopolitics of Conflict and Compromise

By Liam Anderson and Gareth Stansfield

Publication Year: 2009

Despite dramatic improvements in the security environment in most parts of Iraq, still unresolved are many core political issues, foremost of which is the conflict over the city and region of Kirkuk. With immense oil reserves and a diverse population of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmens, Kirkuk in recent history has been scarred by interethnic violence and state-sponsored ethnic cleansing. Throughout the twentieth century, successive Arab Iraqi governments engaged in a brutal campaign to increase Kirkuk's Arab population at the expense of Kurds and Turkmens. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a newly empowered Kurdish leadership has sought to reverse the effects of the Arabization campaign and to hold a referendum on incorporating Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Region. The Kurds' efforts are, however, strongly opposed by Kirkuk's Turkmens, Arabs, and also most states in the region.

In Crisis in Kirkuk, Liam Anderson and Gareth Stansfield offer a dispassionate analysis of one of Iraq's most pressing and unresolved problems. Drawing on extensive research and fieldwork, the authors investigate the claims to ownership made by each of Kirkuk's competing communities. They consider the constitutional mechanisms put in place to address the issue and the problems that have plagued their implementation. The book concludes with an assessment of the measures needed to resolve the crisis in Kirkuk, stressing that finding a compromise acceptable to all sides is vital to the future stability of Iraq.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: National and Ethnic Conflict in the 21st Century

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-8

Iraq has witnessed many dates of significance in recent years. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent overthrow of the Ba’th regime, events in Iraq have dominated the attention of the world’s media, and rarely a day has passed that did not experience some momentous or bloody occurrence. Compared with many previous months, however, July 2008 was quiet. Certainly, political arguments...

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Part I: Kirkuk and Its Environs

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pp. 9-12

Few, if any, contested territories can match the complexity of the town of Kirkuk and the muhafadhat (province) around it.1 Kirkuk is a classic divided city, defined as a place in which groups are rivals for power and resources and where there is a fundamental conflict over the cultural identity and state location of the city.2 Kirkuk is clearly not unique as a...

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1. Kirkuk before Iraq

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pp. 13-23

Kirkuk is a city and region in many ways defined by its physical and, in the twentieth century, political/economic geography. Existing on the Mesopotamian plain with the Zagros mountains to the northeast, the northwestern limit of Kirkuk’s sphere of influence is marked by the Little Zab River, with the Diyala River performing a similar role to the southeast. To the southwest the low mountain range of Jabal Hamrin...

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2. Kirkuk in the Twentieth Century

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pp. 24-48

To build a picture of pre–World War I Kirkuk is not the easiest of tasks. The images presented by historians from Iraq are more often than not deeply essentialized and promote the notion of Kirkuk being dominated by either Turkmens or Kurds. Few of these sources are particularly useful when trying to build an understanding of Kirkuk’s demography in this early period of the twentieth century. In building an accurate picture of Kirkuk in the early twentieth...

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Part II: Three Ethnopolitical Perspectives

Territories over which ownership is contested feature prominently in conflicts across the world. Few of them are straightforward. Instead, they are often the end products of decades, even centuries, of political, social, and economic interactions that manifest themselves in the present as seemingly intractable examples of ethnic hatred, grounded in the perennial divisions between peoples who have failed to come to terms...

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3. The Post-2003 Iraqi Context

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pp. 51-55

No disputed territory exists in isolation from its wider geopolitical context. Kirkuk’s history and geopolitical situation, however, seem tailor-made to produce interethnic struggle. From being a largely cosmopolitan town of the Ottoman Empire, with a mainly Turkish-speaking bureaucracy and elite (irrespective of whether or not these were in fact Turkmens, Kurds, or Arabs), Iraq was reinvented in the aftermath of World War I, which introduced new relationships between communities...

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4. The Turkmen Perspective: The Demise of a Formerly Dominant Community

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pp. 56-70

Few facts about Iraq’s Turkmen community are easy to establish. It is not clear how many Turkmens inhabit Iraq, and it is equally difficult to determine conclusively who the Turkmens are and from where they came. These uncertainties are compounded by the existence of a range of Turkmen political organizations representing views that cover a wide range of opinions. Some of these include the avowedly anti-Kurdish (or, more accurately, anti–Kurdistan Region), the staunchly Iraqi nationalist...

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5. The Kurdish Perspective: Gaining ‘‘Jerusalem’’

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pp. 71-78

The Kurdish claim to Kirkuk is perhaps second only to the crisis in Palestine in its ability to generate significant political rhetoric across the wider Middle East. Indeed, when the wider geopolitical ramifications of the two situations are placed side by side, developments surrounding the Kurdistan Region and the future of Kirkuk could far surpass the transformative impact—in either a negative or a positive way—of events that happen in the Palestinian occupied territories. The reasoning behind this claim is straightforward and should...

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6. The Arab Perspective: Applying the Old Rules

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pp. 79-86

In many ways the Arab perspective on the situation in Kirkuk is the most maligned. If not viewed now as the forces responsible for Arabization, the Arabs are still often seen as the beneficiaries of the policy, gaining access to land, employment, and other opportunities at the expense of those Kirkukis deemed by those now contesting the future of the city as indigenous. With both the Kurdish and Turkmen communities, the task of identifying who is an indigenous inhabitant of Kirkuk is fraught...

Part III: The Postwar Struggle for Kirkuk / Maps

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pp. 87-90

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7. The Kurds Ascendant

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pp. 91-112

By the time Kirkuk fell to a mixture of US special forces and Kurdish peshmerga on 9 April 2003, the future history of the city had already been irrevocably altered by a decision taken in Ankara the previous month. After months of unseemly haggling between Washington and Ankara, on 1 March a majority of voting members of the Turkish parliament finally endorsed a plan to allow US troops to launch a second front using Turkish territory as a staging area.1 However, the abstention of 19...

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8. The Kurds Triumphant

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pp. 113-138

The issue of Kirkuk’s future status came to the forefront with the signing of the interim constitution, the so-called ‘‘Transitional Administrative Law’’ of Iraq (TAL), in Baghdad in March 2004. Prior to this point, the need to reverse the former regime’s Arabization policy had been relatively uncontroversial. As long as the ‘‘reverse Arabization’’ policy was about rectifying past injustices, there was a broad consensus in its favor among most of the city’s ethnic groups. Article 58...

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9. The Kurds Denied

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pp. 139-164

The December federal election differed from that of January in at least three key respects. First, unlike in January, when international monitors had been forced to observe the elections from the relative safety of Jordan, the December election was monitored in-country by up to thirteen hundred international observers. This meant that voting irregularities could be investigated and adjudicated with some degree of speed and credibility. The results of the December election were, therefore...

Part IV: The Future of Kirkuk Dimensions of Compromise

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10. The Struggle for Kirkuk: Problems of Process

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pp. 167-184

Article 140 was drafted to resolve a complex problem—the future status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories—and its failure does nothing to eliminate the original problem. If a viable solution is to be found to a problem of immense significance to Iraq, it is important to understand why article 140 was apparently incapable of providing this. The interaction of multiple factors contributed to the failure of article 140, among them the sheer legal and logistical complexity of the process, the...

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11. The Struggle for Kirkuk: Problems of Final Status

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pp. 185-203

Predicting the course of events in Iraq is a thankless task, even perhaps a fool’s errand. In the context of Kirkuk, this inherent unpredictability is magnified by the complexity and intensity of the issues at stake. The future of Kirkuk is of interest to parties at the local, national, regional, and international levels of analysis, and events at any one of these levels have the potential to shape Kirkuk’s future in fundamental ways. The death of Ayatollah Sistani, for example, would have no direct link...

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12 The Struggle for Kirkuk: Future Governance

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pp. 204-233

The key issue to be addressed in assessing the future governance of Kirkuk is whether power is to be shared among the governorate’s various ethnic communities and if so, to what extent and how? Power sharing does not distill neatly into a dichotomy, and there is a spectrum of possibilities, raging from total majority control at one end to power sharing on the basis of strict equality for all groups at the other. Nonetheless, as a first cut, it is useful to package the concept of power...

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pp. 234-244

It is difficult to write objectively about Kirkuk and all but impossible to be perceived as writing objectively on the issue. Kurds, Turkmens, and Arabs all tend to view their own perspectives, or narratives, as the true interpretations of events, and empirical evidence, no matter how robust, that supports the claims of one group over another is invariably dismissed as partisan propaganda. The absence of uncontested...


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pp. 245-282

List of People Interviewed

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pp. 283-284


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pp. 285-296

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pp. 297-298

This book could not have been completed without the help, resources, and encouragement generously extended by countless individuals and institutions. In particular, we would like to thank the University of Exeter and Wright State University for administrative and financial support. Both universities have been exceedingly generous in providing the time and space necessary to work on this project. A research fellowship...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206043
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812241761

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: National and Ethnic Conflict in the 21st Century