Tensions are running high in post-war Iraq as sectarian divides pose a serious risk to the security and stability of the country. Iraq is made up of Sunnis, Shias, Turkmen, Kurds, Arabs, and Christians. One of the main points of contention has been over the control of Kirkuk Province, one of Iraq's most diverse areas that sits on as much as ten billion barrels of oil reserves. Kirkuk separates Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region in the north from the Arab-dominated south and center. While thousands of Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq after almost nine years in the country, Kirkuk officials say the US troop withdrawal "will further pave the way for extremist groups to operate in the area and fear violence will rise."
According to al-Jazeera, Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is the latest attempt by the Iraqi government to resolve the dispute between Arbil and Baghdad over Kirkuk Province. The article calls for a referendum to determine whether or not the residents of Kirkuk wish to join the Kurdistan Region. However, the initial deadline for the article was set for 2007 and has yet to be implemented because of disagreements in government. As for the Turkmen, they want Kirkuk to be independent of both Baghdad and Arbil .
According to Gulf News, "one of the worst legacies of the American domination of Iraqi politics is institutionalisation of sectarian thinking." Now that the US troops are gone and since there is no unified security force in Kirkuk, conflict over power between the Shiite Mahdi Army, the Kurds' Peshmerga and the Sunni Anbar tribes looms large. Accroding to Tony Karon of Time Magazine, “The Shi'ite-Sunni-Kurdish power-sharing arrangement the Americans imagined would be achieved by the constitution they created is looking increasingly fanciful."
Some political observers believe that the US military presence in Iraq prevented the volatile situation in Kirkuk from erupting. "In short, the US withdrawal has inflicted a heavy blow to Kirkuk," said Halo Najat Najat, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. In line with predictions of political turbulence and civil strife in Iraq in the year to come, one resident of Kirkuk said that after the withdrawal, "no place in Iraq will be stable."
Photo Credit: STRINGER Iraq / Reuters. A woman waves Kurdish flags during a rally in the disputed Iraqi town ofKhanaqin, northeast of Baghdad.