The seizure of Kirkuk would have been unthinkable before this week, but with Iraqi security forces not only displaying its inability to control large population centers from ISIS fighters, they have little appetite to confront Peshmerga forces, who are considered the best trained and most disciplined soldiers in Iraq, from consolidating territory beyond the Kurdish borders. When the smoke clears, the result could be a permanent territorial gain for Kurdistan.
For centuries, Kurds have dreamed of gaining full control of Kirkuk province, which was previously their capital. Yousif Mohammed Sadiq, the parliamentary speaker of the Kurdish Regional Government, emphasised the desire of the Kurdish government to break away from the rest of the country: “There is a natural divide between the people of Iraq. The Kurds and the Arabs, for example, are not one people but they were pushed together into one country whose borders are not natural.”
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In addition to its symbolic importance, Kirkuk is now a hub for energy exploration, with some of Iraq’s largest oilfields found within the province. The Kurds view control of the oilfields as the gateway to building a viable independent state. Since 2011, big oil companies, including BP, ExxonMobil and Total have signed exploration deals with Iraqi Kurdistan.
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