Next year’s 10th anniversary of the Iraq war may focus on the feebleness so far of federalism and the country possibly breaking up without having resolved the tensions between the autonomous Kurdistan Region and Baghdad that have recently put tanks and artillery on their internal borders. Ancient differences now involve energy policy, land disputes and differing attitudes towards powerful neighbours, which reflect the wider Shia-Sunni divide.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s success attracts needless resentment rather than rejoicing in Baghdad. Last week’s huge oil and gas conference in its capital, Erbil, ‘the exploration capital of the world,’ illustrated its dramatic progress. It is now clear that the Kurds have about three per cent of the world’s oil and much natural gas, most of the world’s top oil companies have established themselves there, and the economy enjoys double-digit growth.
But Baghdad remains a drag anchor. Previous regimes neglected Kurdistan and conducted genocide including the attack on Halabja in 1988 where mustard gas killed 5,000 people. Baghdad continues to seek central control over Kurdistan’s resources although the 2005 constitution allows the Kurds autonomy to encourage exploration in virgin territory with bigger incentives for oil companies.