Kurds, Arabs in Maliki Regime Remain Divided

The ruling coalition of Arab Shiites and Kurds, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, has much less in common than previously thought.

Both need each other to keep their small majority intact and thereby preserve the strings of power, no matter how shaky, in their hands.

The Kurds are represented by ostensibly secular political factions battling a surge in Islamic militancy in their own backyard in northern Iraq.

Fighting militant Sunni elements like those linked to al-Qaeda is the platform that brings them together and appeals to their protectors, the U.S. occupiers.

Otherwise, there is little common ground for them to stand and the divisive issues setting them apart remain unsolved despite their alliance now in its fourth year.

The coalition has failed to address the conflict over Kurdish militias, known as peshmergas. The Kurds want the government to subsidize their militias whose numbers they estimate at 180,000 fighters.

The government, dominated by Arab Shiites, disputes the figure, saying the Kurds under previous agreements are only allowed to have a military force of no more than 25,000.

There is also the contentious issue of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk which the Kurds are adamant to add to their semi-independent enclave currently composed of three provinces - Sulaimaniya, Arbil and Dahouk.

Another sticky issue relates to oil development and production. The Kurds have gone ahead with signing oil deals with foreign firms for the exploitation of fields in their territory and even beyond.

The government has declared those contracts null and void and has rallied neighboring states, already suspicious of Kurdish intentions, to block the possibility of Kurds shipping oil to international markets.

There are likewise disagreements over the Kurdish share of oil revenues. The Kurds say they make up 20 percent of the Iraqi population and a corresponding percentage of royalties should be earmarked to their enclave. The government says the figure is highly inflated.

The government fears if it lets the Kurds have their way to oil revenues and development, formation of special militia forces, and control over the city of Kirkuk, other provinces will start demanding the same privileges.

Under the constitution Iraq will be a federal state and enclaves like those in northern Iraq are legally possible to establish in other parts of the country.

But the Kurds are apparently not willing to compromise. In situations like these the country's Federal Court is the body to decide on the disputes.

But so far no party has the intention of putting these issues before the court.

If politicians fail to reach an agreement, and the Federal Court is not invited to help, how such sticky problems are going to be solved.

Some of the issues like Kirkuk are labeled as 'ticking bombs.' Iraqis hope the 'bombs' will be defused in time as they have already had enough of them.

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