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  • Crisis in Kirkuk: Ethnopolitics of Conflict and Compromise
  • Michiel Leezenburg (bio)
Crisis in Kirkuk: Ethnopolitics of Conflict and Compromise, by Liam Anderson and Gareth Stansfield. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. xii + 244 pages. Notes to p. 281. List of interviewees to p. 284. Index to p. 295. Acknowl. to p. 298. $59.95.

The city and province of Kirkuk, claimed by rival Kurdish, Arab, and Turcoman nationalists, constitute what is perhaps the most notorious bone of contention in post-Saddam Iraq. Since 2003, Kirkuk has witnessed relatively little of the insurgent activity and murderous urban warfare that have marked Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra, let alone large-scale interethnic violence at the grassroots level; however, it is consistently described as a powder keg, and its future is often portrayed as crucial to the very survival of Iraq as a single state. Anderson and Stansfield's Crisis in Kirkuk provides a political analysis of the region's recent power struggle against the background of the pluralist polity emerging in post-Saddam Iraq. Primarily based on English-language reports and interviews with political leaders, it contests the reductionist view that the [End Page 136] conflict is really about oil alone, and argues for a compromise solution.

Part I sketches Kirkuk's earlier history, focusing on the decades of Arabization policies pursued by the Ba'thist government. Part II summarizes the three dominant ethnopolitical narratives or perspectives on the province's more recent history and current status: the Turcoman view, which aims at restoring an alleged former Turcoman demographic and political dominance; the Kurdish view, which depicts Kirkuk as the sacred focus of Kurdish aspirations if not the preferred capital for a future independent Kurdish state; and the Arab perspective, which prefers a return to the status quo under Ba'thist rule, and objects against attempts to reverse the earlier ethnic cleansings of Kurds and Turcomans. Part III outlines the postwar struggle for Kirkuk, focusing on the changing Kurdish fortunes: Despite their strong initial position as staunch US allies and as the strongest military force in the region, the Kurdish parties have not been able to consolidate their territorial gains in the political arena. The final part covers the likely and desirable future scenarios; in particular, it discusses the failure of Article 140 of the 2005 Constitution, which, among other provisions, called for a referendum on the province's status to be held by December 2007. The authors next discuss a number of possible compromise solutions along two lines: first, whether or not Kirkuk should be incorporated into the autonomous Kurdish Region and second, whether governance should be based on power sharing or on majority rule. They argue that power sharing should not be based on ethnic quotas fixed in advance, but on demographic realities. If Kirkuk is attached to the Kurdish region, they continue, there should be a power sharing arrangement. However, if it is to remain under central government control, it should be based on majority rule. A slight —though by no means uncritical —pro-Kurdish bias may be detected in these pages; more importantly, although Crisis in Kirkuk valiantly tries to maintain a neutral position between rival ethnic claims, it does not spring or expose their nationalist confines.

The authors rightly emphasize the importance of a negotiated and peaceful compromise, but do not quite manage to explain why such a compromise has proven so elusive; more specifically, they do not account for the increasingly aggressive and uncompromising rhetoric of the rival parties. They repeatedly suggest that such changes have been forced by popular opinion (e.g., pp. 3, 7). However, in a country marked by top-down political activism such as Iraq, and with parties as strongly entrenched and authoritarian as the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), this is a rather implausible claim. More generally, the book appears to treat the ethnic categories of Arabs, Kurds, and Turcomans as given and essentially unchanging, and (specifically in Chapters 8, 9, and 12) to assume a one to one relation between ethnic identity and voting behavior. This assumption is rendered problematic by the vagaries of local political alliances, and by the ambiguity of local ethnic...


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pp. 136-137
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