Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani termed a proposition put before them recently by the heads of the Turkomen community ” extremely interesting and worth pursuing.” This pursuit is going forward at a headlong pace.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources reveal that Saad e-Din al-Kidj, chairman of the Turkmen Supreme Council essentially proposed the introduction of self-rule for the Turkoman homeland of Turkmeneli which abuts and often overlaps the Kurdish region and the oil-rich lands of northern Iraq (See attached debkafile Special Map) and promises it will act as a buffer between Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq.
The Turkomen, who are a predominantly Muslim Turkic nation, represent Iraq’s third ethnic minority. They are under the protection of Ankara.
The plan for Turkomen autonomy has come up before. In 2002, about a year before the US-led invasion of Iraq, CIA agents and undercover US troops floated the proposal while preparing the military and intelligence infrastructure for the war in the autonomous Kurdish region. (Those preparations were described in detail in DNW 67 of July 5, 2002).
The heads of the far larger and more powerful Kurdish community angrily rejected the plan as a political and security threat to their interests.
But much has changed in three years. Suddenly an autonomous Turkoman belt along their southern border looks to the Kurds like an asset to be welcomed – a shield against any Arab military threat from the south and east and a better-than-good insurance policy against Turkish military steps to stop the Kurds’ advance toward independence and domination of the mixed town of Kirkuk. Irbil is already rubbing its hands at the prospect of bilateral economic and military cooperation with Ankara.
Kurds 25% of oil revenues to Turkomen State
So keen are Talabani and Barzani on the Turkomen independence scheme that they have counter-offered the Turkomens a 25% share in the oil revenues of Kirkuk. This offer was made without a by-your-leave from the interim government in Baghdad headed by Iyad Allawi and certainly not from the post-election administration due to rise.
Most Iraqis in high places are too bowled over to step in.
But the momentum is hard to stop. Ankara has been informed that the Kurds will pocket 75% of the northern oil revenues and will give the Turkomen 25% to support their self-ruling enclave.
This deal augurs a reshaping of the map of northern Iraq. The Turkomen strip runs transversely from Tel Afar near the Syrian border in the west up to a point south of Kurdish Halabja near the Iranian border to the east. Its population, estimated at between two and three million, centers on the two main towns of Tel Afar and Kuz-Khrumatu.
The oil receipts will finance a new army whose Turkish officers will supply the weapons and training.
This will be the first time in modern history that the Turks will have gained a military foothold in northern Iraq in a region that commands the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad.
Ankara will have no more need to establish a military presence in northern Iraq. It will have under its command 50-60,000 Turkomen troops, which the Turks and the Kurds are certain will be fully trained and combat-ready much sooner than the Iraqi army the Americans are building further south. This army will be backed by the 100,000 Kurdish troops.
This signal development should not only dispel Ankara’s fears of a Kurdish independent state but bring forth is firm support.
New coalition will strive to take Iraq out of Arab bloc
By the end of this year or early 2006, the central government in Baghdad may find itself staring at an army of 160,000 trained soldiers to the north. This force, not subject to the federal government’s orders, will be the best trained and disciplined of any force in the country.
The Turkomen-Kurdish deal has an important ethnic aspect.
Their coalition in the new national assembly, 102-105 deputies strong, is committed to voting against the new constitution proclaiming Iraq an Arab republic. Sections of the dominant 140-member Shiite United Iraqi Alliance may go along with this position. It is therefore very possible that, for the first time in two centuries, a democratically-elected majority will take a former Arab state out of the Arab bloc.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Kurdistan report that Kurdish leaders have been showering lavish concessions on the Turkomens to make sure they do not have a change of heart. Areas once hotly contested are now opened up to them – and not entirely out of the kindness of Kurdish hearts; they reckon that if the Turkomen expand into all parts of Kurdistan and are awarded equal rights, they will sink a part of their share of oil profits there and so invest in independent Kurdistan’s development and prosperity.
This week, therefore, Kurdish leaders invited all the Turkomen driven out of Kirkuk (where they used to account for one-third of the population) to return and reclaim their property with Kurdish government’s guarantees for their safety.
In a few short weeks, the seedlings of two independent non-Arab Iraqi states have begun sending out strong shoots.