No longer a model. By Stephanie Gaskell for the San Francisco Chronicle:
(07-17) 04:00 PDT Kirkuk, Iraq — The oil-rich northern region of Iraq has enjoyed comparative calm since the toppling of Saddam’s Hussein’s government. But Kirkuk province, which had been viewed by many as a model for the rest of the country, may be turning into the next hotbed of sectarian slaughter.
Three bombings, including an enormous suicide truck blast, killed more than 80 people Monday in the city of Kirkuk, the deadliest attacks yet in an area of rising ethic tensions among Arabs, Turkomans and Kurds.
By the end of the year, Kirkuk’s population of almost 1 million is to vote on a referendum to decide whether to remain part of Iraq or join the autonomous Kurdish region. Most Kurds wish to be part of the Kurdish Regional Government, while most Arab residents (both Shiites and Sunnis) prefer to remain part of Iraq under a decentralized government.
Even before Monday’s attacks — which damaged the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of President Jalal Talabani — U.S. commanders had warned that the region was becoming more vulnerable to militants.
“The conditions exist for there to be tension,” said Lt. Col. Michael Browder, head of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment at Camp Warrior. “It’s not what we’re doing to prepare for it, it’s what we’re proactively doing to prevent it.”