The evidence continues to suggest that the Kurds don't want to be part of a strongly centralized Iraq:
Kurdish officials this fall took delivery of three planeloads of small arms and ammunition imported from Bulgaria, three U.S. military officials said, an acquisition that occurred outside the weapons procurement procedures of Iraq's central government.
The large quantity of weapons and the timing of the shipment alarmed U.S. officials, who have grown concerned about the prospect of an armed confrontation between Iraqi Kurds and the government at a time when the Kurds are attempting to expand their control over parts of northern Iraq.
While violence in Iraq has decreased markedly in recent months, political tension is rising as Iraqi leaders gear up for provincial and national elections scheduled to take place next year, and as they prepare for an era in which the U.S. military will have a smaller presence there.
Of the primary fault lines -- which include tension between Sunnis and Shiites and rivalry among Shiite political parties -- the rift between Kurds and the Arab-dominated Iraqi government has become a top concern in recent months. Senior government officials have engaged in a war of words, and Iraqi army and pesh merga [Kurdish militia] units have come close to clashing.
"You could easily have a huge eruption of violence in the north," said Kenneth B. Katzman, a Middle East specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington. "Nothing having to do with the Kurds is resolved."
Iraq hasn't been garnering much attention in the US media of late, but the problems still exist. And problems with integrating the Kurds in to a centralized Iraq shouldn't surprise anyone. As I wrote in September 2007, Mr. President, Democratic Leadership: There Is No Such Thing as Iraq:
Sure, look on a map, and it exists. It’s got a seat in the United Nations. The electrical grid is national, and the people who live within the geographic boundaries are considered, by other nations, "Iraqis." But George W. Bush is trying to fool a nation and a world in to thinking that there is a nation known as Iraq.
There are Kurds, and they don’t want to be in a nation that includes Sunni Arabs, whose leadership they blame for the genocidal policies known as the Anfal. Expecting Kurds to remain part of the Iraqi nation-state is like expecting Jews to have gotten a national homeland adjoined to Germany after the Holocaust, but expecting the Jews to make nice with the Germans and let bygones be bygones. Most Americans probably don’t realize that it’s ILLEGAL to fly the flag of Iraq in Kurdistan. The Kurds are Kurds. They are not Iraqis, and they never will be.
In the 14 months since I wrote that, there hasn't been any serious progress at bringing Iraqi Kurdistan in to a tighter bond with the rest of (Arab-dominated) Iraq. The Kurdish political leadership recognizes that declaring independence could possibly bring attacks by some combination of Turkey, Iran and Syria, all of whom have their own Kurdish minorities they wish to keep from seeking autonomy or independence. And that's to say nothing about retribution from Iraqi Arabs.
But not seeking independence is not the same as accepting central control from a Baghdad government led by Arabs. Vice President-elect Joe Biden has long recognized this, and has been a strong proponent of a divided Iraq, split roughly along lines that would leave a Kurdish section, a Shiite Arab section, and a Sunni Arab section.
The eventual shape of Iraq—including the degree of autonomy for Kurdistan and the distribution of oil revenues, especially from Kirkuk, which is being contested by Kurds and Sunni Arabs—will not be easily solved. It probably won't get "solved" until we start drawing out troops in earnest, as Obama and Biden have pledged to do. And it's one more intractable problem that Bush has left for Obama and the Democrats to solve.