As Iraq fractures into pieces, the long-simmering movement for Kurdish independence is showing its strength. The Kurds, who control an oil-rich swath of northeastern Iraq, have been seizing more territory as the central government in Iraq fails to stem the recent march by ISIS across Iraq's terrain.
The New Iraq? Map of cultural/religion inhabitants. Tan = Sunni; Red = Shia; Blue = Kurd. (ISIS = Sunni) pic.twitter.com/OM7a8xOD6H— Jacob Dirr (@JacobDirr) June 14, 2014
Last month, as Iraqi troops deserted their posts in the city of Kirkuk, the Kurds seized control of the prized city and have held it and its oil refineries. As Zack Beauchamp noted, "the crisis has been, in a strange way, a boon to the Kurds — provided that they can remain out of the fighting."
But the fighting, especially over Kirkuk, has come to them. As the Washington Post reported, the two groups have been duking it with ISIS bombarding the city, killing scores of civilians in recent days. Kurdish Gen. Mariwan Mohammad gave this assessment of the fighting:
So far, he said, 54 Kurdish fighters have been killed and 350 wounded along the 110-mile stretch that his forces help defend."
What makes the Kurdish expansion particularly captivating is its popularity among ethnic minorities in Iraq, which have long been isolated by the divisive Shiite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and are finding the Kurds to be tolerant of minorities. Their Kurdish push has also been accompanied by a sophisticated building of infrastructure and institutions. In essence, they now have a de facto state.