The Baghdad newspaper Sabah published a surprising article a few weeks ago. Its editor, Abd Jabbar Shabbout, suggested it was time to settle the “age-old problem” between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds by establishing a “Kurdish state.” Never before had I heard such a once-heretical view so publicly expressed in any Arab quarter. And this was no ordinary quarter: Sabah is the mouthpiece of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Shabbout went on to suggest a negotiated “ending of the Arab-Kurdish partnership in a peaceful way.”
He called his proposal Plan B, Plan A being the “dialogue” between Iraq’s central government and the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq that emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
But Plan A, he said, was getting nowhere. Differences over power and authority, oil and natural resources, territory and borders were so deep that the dialogue repeatedly failed. In December the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga faced off in an atmosphere so tense, according to Shabbout, that hostilities could have broken out at any moment as a result of the slightest miscalculation.
And it wasn’t only Shabbout, but Maliki himself, who warned that if war did break out it wouldn’t be just a war between Kurdish rebels and Baghdad, as it used to be under Hussein, but an “ethnic war between Arabs and Kurds.”
Could it be that the “Kurdish question” has reached another critical stage in its history, one that is intimately bound up with the region-wide cataclysm that is the “Arab Spring”? ... So are the Iraqi Kurds now on the brink of their third, perhaps final, breakthrough toward independence? Could the great losers of post-World War I settlements become the great winners of the Arab Spring? “Not only is Iraqi Kurdistan undergoing an unprecedented building boom,” reports Joost Hilterman in Foreign Affairs, “its people are now articulating a once-unthinkable notion: that the day they will break free from the rest of Iraq is nigh.” And Kurdish President Masoud Barazani often openly alludes to it. “We have had enough,” he says, of the “dictatorship in power in Baghdad.”