23 June 2009


The city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq has long been described as an ethnic powder keg, consisting of a potentially volatile mix of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkomen. The city even looks forboding as you fly into it. Kirkuk has massive oil and mineral deposits, meaning that a flight above the city looks like a flight above Dante's vision of hell, with massive oil towers spouting bursts of flame into the sky, and a nearby sulfur plant spewing forth brimstone. Inside the walled citadel of Dis that is the local FOB in the area, it is sometimes difficult to catch the bus to get to the Green Beans Coffee, which makes it slightly inconvenient to get a latte. Yes, volatile ethnic tension, oil deposits worth fighting over, flames in the air, sulfur plant, and the slightly inconvenient method of obtaining precious, life-giving cappuccino all combine to place one in the tenth circle of hell in Kirkuk. (Okay, for the record I am exaggerating. Don't blow this out of context. After all, their dining facility has stir-fry.)

Nevertheless, just when you thought that the Iraq War might be over—when even Small Wars Journal was reporting no Iraq news in its daily roundup—someone decides to detonate nearly two tons of explosives outside a Shia Turkoman mosque in a town just south of Kirkuk.

Massive bombings of mosques have been the modus operandi of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) since the Samarra bombing of 2006. These acts are usually carried out with the intent of sparking a massive cycle of ethnic violence, much as happened in 2006 between the Sunni and the Shia. Recent attempts to incite such violence in areas around Baghdad and nearby Baqubah in May of this year have been unsuccessful, thanks to a number of factors, which includes reconciliation between Sunni and Shia*.

Is the latest Kirkuk bombing an example of AQI or a similar group adapting its tactics? If sparking off tensions between Sunni and Shia around Baghdad isn't working, why try to see if tensions can be sparked off in Kirkuk?

*--I need to throw out there that there are many who also argue that the decrease in violence is more due to the fact that the campaign of ethnic cleansing and dislocation of Sunni and Shia within the neighborhoods in and around Baghdad was largely complete by mid-2007. I might be inclined to believe that the truth lies somewhere in between…

No comments: