As extremists are driven out of northern Iraq, the much contested Kirkuk province looks to the future. Politicians are discussing their options, including becoming an independent region.
There are all kinds of names used to describe the northern city of Kirkuk and its surrounds. The Heart of Iraq. The Kurdish Jerusalem. A Mini-Iraq. Most of these refer either to the fact that Kirkuk hosts such a mixed population, one that includes Arabs, Turkmen and Kurdish populations, or to the fact that it is also one of the country’s disputed territories; that is, the Kurdish say it belongs to their semi-autonomous region while the Iraqi Arabs say it belongs to Iraq proper.
But recently a new name has been thrown around: Kirkuk – The Independent Region.
As the extremist group known as the Islamic State is being pushed back in Iraq and the future looks more secure in the north, local politicians have once again started to debate Kirkuk’s future.
There appear to be three main options. Firstly, no change, which would mean Kirkuk remains part of federal Iraq. Secondly, annexation to the neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan – that is, the area becomes part of the semi-autonomous region controlled by the Iraqi Kurdish. And thirdly, Kirkuk strikes out on its own, and gains recognition as another semi-autonomous region, except in its own name.
Ever since the security crisis sparked by the Islamic State, or IS, group began, Kirkuk looked to be moving toward the second option. The Iraqi Kurdish military had moved into the city and surrounds to secure them and prevent incursions by the IS group. To all intents and purposes, Kirkuk was under the control of Iraqi Kurdistan.