Buried near the bottom of Iraq's Constitution, it says that:
...the Transitional Administrative Law shall extend and continue to the executive authority elected in accordance with this constitution, provided that it completes (normalization and census and concludes with a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to determine the will of their citizens), in a period not to exceed (the thirty first of December two thousand and seven).
With eleven months until the deadline to decide who controls the city that produces 40% of country's oil and 70% of its natural gas, concerns are mounting that Kirkuk may join Al Anbar and Baghdad as the third front in Iraq's civil war. But unlike the Shi'ia versus Sunni nature of the conflict in the rest of Iraq, a battle for Kirkuk would pit both groups against the Kurds.
While the administration is often heard to say that the violence in Iraq is limited to Baghdad and Al Anbar province:
Last year, at least 325 people were killed and 1,390 wounded in this city of about 1 million. During the first three weeks of this year, bombings and assassinations left 23 dead and 102 injured, police say.
And who is behind the violence? According to American and Iraqi officials, "Al Qaeda-linked fighters recently have surfaced here, launching a wave of lethal attacks." But less than a year ago, during a Defense Department press briefing, was the following exchange:
Q: You mentioned reports of Shi'a moving into Kirkuk area. Can you give us a sense of the numbers moving in? You know, are these militias, are these residents? What's your sense of it?
COL. GRAY: ...We have seen some movement, as I mentioned, of the Badr Corps setting up additional offices in Kirkuk, and some indication of the Jaysh al-Mahdi coming to Kirkuk. How many the numbers are, I can't really say. They're coming in bits and pieces. I don't think it's in huge numbers right now.
And three days after that briefing, the Washington Post reported that:
Hundreds of Shiite Muslim militiamen have deployed in recent weeks to this restive city -- widely considered the most likely flash point for an Iraqi civil war -- vowing to fight any attempt to shift control over Kirkuk to the Kurdish-governed north, according to U.S. commanders and diplomats, local police and politicians. [...]
...Sadr's representative in the city, Abdul Karim Khalifa, told U.S. officials that more armed loyalists were on the way and that as many as 7,000 to 10,000 Shiite residents were prepared to fight alongside the Mahdi Army if called upon. Legions more Shiite militiamen would push north from Baghdad's Sadr City slum, he said, according to Wise.
"His message was essentially that any idea of Kirkuk going to the Kurds will mean a fight,"
And what do the Kurds, who have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into the Iraqi Army, say about control of Kirkuk?
The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted. [...]
"There is no other choice. If Kirkuk does not become part of Kurdistan peacefully we will fight for 100 years to take it."
The Shi'ia, Sunnis and Kurds have long said that they will fight for Kirkuk. The Defense Department confirmed more than a year ago that the Mahdi Army and Badr Corps were moving into the city. But as the violence increases and tensions rise, officials are now claiming that it is "Al Qaeda-linked fighters" who are responsible. To say otherwise would mean admitting the obvious. That the third front in Iraq's civil war may be opening up.