Two things happened in Iraq in the last 48 hours to indicate that the conflict in the country is entering yet another new phase. The first was a truck bomb — nothing new about that except that it was in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region, an area previously held to be at peace. Indeed until yesterday’s blast killed 19 and injured 70, the city actually had a violent crime rate lower than East London.
Run virtually independently from the rest of the country, the place has been a boomtown, with oil revenues being creamed off by a local elite (as they were in Saddam’s day). Now it’s a boomtown in the wrong way. Bad news for the now ever reliably wrong Christopher Hitchens, who suggested in March that the place would make a great holiday destination (the article is, coincidentally, the most recent post on Albert Langer’s pro-war left website).
Whether the Arbil explosion will prove to be a freak, or is the beginning of a process by which Kurdistan is drawn into the Iraqi maelstrom, remains to be seen. The fact that the thing went off outside the Interior ministry — of a government run by Kurdish militias and friendly to US forces — would indicate that it was a political blow at a collaborationist state, rather than a sectarian outrage per se.
Potentially of more significance is a petition circulating in the Iraq parliament and signed by more than half its 230+ members, calling for the withdrawal of occupation forces from their country. The petition comes at a time when Prime Minister Al-Maliki’s “government” is tottering further towards collapse, with Sunni members threatening to withdraw from the ministry (Al-Sadr’s Shia have already left), and Kurdish members threatening to block the oil bill that gives foreign companies 75% of revenue for the next 25 years.
Of course even though Dick Cheney is in Baghdad to urge Al-Maliki to do better in meeting security benchmarks(!), you won’t read much, if anything, about it in the mainstream media – presumably because Cheney’s people didn’t put it on his press release. News-googling “petition” gets you … Paris Hilton.
There is actually no limit on what could happen in Iraq now. If Iraqi Kurdistan collapses then Turkey may occupy it after the US leaves, to secure their own borders. If central Iraq collapses, it will leave a Shia republic allied to Iran, and a Sunni rump, controlled by a renewed Baath party. Credit where it’s due – Greg Sheridan actually noted these possibilities about four months ago. As did I – in 2004.