Iraq's New Flashpoint
With the international media and chattering classes turning their focus to Kabul, almost any news coming out of Baghdad got short shrift this year. That's unfortunate because even as overall violence declined in Iraq, the conflict is far from over. From a persistent insurgency carrying out regular attacks in major cities, to the country's 2.7 million remaining internal refugees, to a distressing lack of political reconciliation in Baghdad, Iraq has any number of emerging flashpoints that threaten to tear apart the tentative progress of recent years. And most troubling of all may be the growing fears of a new conflict between Iraq's Arab and Kurdish populations.
The limited attention this subject has gotten so far has focused on the Kurdish claims to oil-rich Kirkuk, but analysts say developments in nearby Nineveh, the province around the northern city of Mosul, might be more dangerous still. The area is south of the Kurdish border, but contains a large Kurdish population that is eager to incorporate the territory into Kurdistan. Following the U.S. invasion, the Kurds became politically dominant in Nineveh, largely because of the apathy of the local Sunni population, and stationed peshmerga militia troops in the area in an effort to bring it under Kurdish control.
That changed in January when Sunnis rallied around the hard-line Arab nationalist party al-Hadba -- which campaigned on a platform of pushing out the peshmerga and countering Kurdish influence -- and handed it a narrow majority in Nineveh's provincial elections. The Kurdish Fraternal List, the main Kurdish party in the region, walked out of the provincial council, vowing not to return unless it was given a number of senior leadership positions.
With both sides threatening to resort to violence to resolve the dispute and insurgent attacks continuing, including a truck bombing that killed 20 in a Kurdish village in September, Iraqi and U.S. authorities increasingly view Nineveh's conflict as the greatest threat to Iraq's stability. "Without a compromise deal, [Nineveh] risks dragging the country as a whole on a downward slope," Loulouwa al-Rachid, the International Crisis Group's senior Iraq analyst, said in September. As one sign of how tense the situation has become, U.S. troops were still patrolling in Mosul months after their official withdrawal from other Iraqi cities.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images