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Iraq. Arabs and Kurds must urgently agree to a power-sharing deal

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Mosul/Washington/Brussels -  Arabs and Kurds must urgently agree to a power-sharing deal, joint patrols in disputed areas and protection of minority groups to prevent escalating violence in Ninewa from endangering what remains highly fragile and uneven progress in Iraq. 

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Iraq’s New Battlefront: The Struggle over Ninewa, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, focuses on the troubled northern governorate, where a conflict between Arabs and Kurds threatens to spiral out of control. While levels of violence have continued to drop in other parts of the country, Ninewa has seen a dramatic spike in attacks in recent months as the two groups compete for power and influence. Caught between them are vulnerable minority groups that have taken the brunt of casualties: scores have already died in large-scale, horrific attacks in the last two months.

“Ninewa has become the focus of the latest phase of the Arab-Kurdish conflict”, says Loulouwa al-Rachid, Crisis Group’s Senior Iraq Analyst. “Without a compromise deal, it risks dragging the country as a whole on a downward slope”.

The dispute in Ninewa, a majority-Arab governorate with a strong Kurdish minority, came to a head after the January 2009 provincial elections. Sunni Arabs, who had boycotted the polls four years earlier, united around the al-Hadbaa List, wresting political control from their Kurdish rivals gathered in the Ninewa Brotherhood List. Coming in second, the Kurds insisted on an equitable share of local government posts and refused to occupy their seats on the provincial council when their demand was rejected. The result has been the paralysis of local government and an alarming rise in tensions.

Any successful effort to defuse the crisis needs to be two-tracked. At the national level, the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government must take steps to resolve bilateral issues, including the status of disputed territories, the management and allocation of resources, and the division of power. They should also pressure Ninewa’s political actors to reach a local compromise, pledging to release $500 million in unspent budget funds to the local government if and when they succeed.

Locally, al-Hadbaa and the Brotherhood List should move to resolve their conflict. They need to agree on an interim deal that gives the latter a fair share of power, while allowing the former to govern effectively. Kurdish military and police forces must be formally incorporated into federal army units and Ninewa’s police, under joint command and with joint security patrols. Minority groups should be given far greater protection and attempts to manipulate them ended immediately.

“Ninewa reminds us of the fundamental problems threatening Iraq, notably the absence of movement toward a sustainable solution to the Kurdish question”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “Reaching a compromise is urgent but is unlikely without an assertive American role. The U.S. might be on its way out, but its hands will be full even as it heads for the exit”.
© Crisis International -
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