Iraqi’s Kirkuk province remains in the grip of tension and violent clashes, with weapons widely available throughout the region, which is best described as a disputed area.
This label reveals the fundamental flaw of Iraq’s constitution, drawn up in 2005. Intended as the founding document of a new national politics, it was supposed to transcend identity conflicts and pave the way to a new unified state.
But instead, it has become a means to legitimise conflict. And Kirkuk – home to diverse ethnicities, religions, sects and even nationalities – is the standout example.
Not least because Kirkuk holds special significance for some groups, setting up particular tensions over the power dynamics there. It was often referred to as the "Jerusalem of the Kurds" by the late President Jalal Talabani and the "heart of Kurdistan" by Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani. For the Turkmen, it stands as a symbol of their identity, with borders representing the juncture of Arab and Kurdish regions.
These longer-established forces have eclipsed the Iraqi constitution’s aims to establish the principles of national identity, citizenship and patriotism within a new political framework.
Read more: Kirkuk: Iraq’s perpetual missed opportunity
Explanations for flare-up
But essential questions over the latest flare-ups in tension remain, not least over timing: Why the sudden escalation in Kirkuk, especially into provincial council elections due in January?
One answer centres on an agreement between Iran and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq over the disarmament of Iranian opposition forces and the evacuating of their military bases within the region.
There is talk of a potential deal, possibly involving the re-expansion of the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) influence over Kirkuk. This comes after its withdrawal from the province in 2017, following federal forces' intervention during Haider al-Abadi's government. Any such return could stoke tensions within the established balance of politics.