Source: International Crisis Group
Vigorous international diplomatic efforts on the Kirkuk question are overdue. Along with its allies, and assisted by the UN's political and technical expertise, the U.S. should forge an alternative strategy on Kirkuk that is acceptable to all parties. Given the complex regional situation, it will need to incorporate two additional critical elements: progress on Iraq's hydrocarbons law (major parts of which are yet to be negotiated) to cement the Kurdish region securely within a federal Iraq; and Turkey's concerns about the PKK, the Turkish-Kurd guerrilla group whose fighters are holed up in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, in order to remove Ankara's potential spoiler role.
If a ray of hope shines through this dismal tangle, it is that all sides in Kirkuk currently seem to agree on the need for dialogue. This includes the Kurds who, having pursued single-mindedly for four years a strategy that, even if it were to lead to the acquisition of Kirkuk, offered no prospect of holding onto it peaceably, have come to recognise its futility. Some are signalling they may be prepared to try something new, even if they continue to insist on a referendum in 2007. The international community should build on this and encourage the Kurds, with a gentle but firm nudge, to step back from the referendum and embrace instead a deliberative consensus-based process that could produce far greater dividends - peace and stability in a shared Kirkuk - than the imposition of their exclusionary rule via an ethnically-based, simple-majority vote and annexation.
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