By Marwan al-Ani

Azzaman, March 12, 2012

Iraq’s oil-rich Province of Kirkuk is likened to a ‘time-bomb’ as disparate Iraqi ethnic groups struggle for its control.

The province, with its capital bearing the same name, is part of what in Iraq’s current political jargon is termed “disputed territories.”

The label means it is not decided yet whether they belong to semi-independent Kurdish administration in northern Iraq or to the central government in Baghdad.

Kirkuk’s future is the thorniest among the dispute areas. The province is a major oil producing center with proven reserves of billions of barrels.

The Kurds, emboldened by a weak central government in Baghdad, have sent in their heavily armed militias to the city, and are even said to be developing oil wells within Kirkuk’s administrative borders.

The presence of Kurdish militias in the city and encroachments on its oil have exacerbated security conditions and increased divisions among its minorities.

Tensions are expected to rise even further following reports that the Kurds were developing, through foreign firms, oil wells within Kirkuk’s provincial borders.

Kirkuk gets one dollar for each barrel of oil produced from its oil fields under a new legislation known as “petro-dollar” law. Last year, the provincial coffers received 350 billion Iraqi dinars (one dollar is worth 1,250 dinars) from the central government.

Yasin al-Ubaidi, a legislator from Kirkuk, has openly accused the Kurds of “stealing” Kirkuk’s oil.

Ubaidi said the Kurds were developing oil fields that belonged to the province and funneling the royalties to their own treasury instead of depositing the money in the Iraqi Central Bank.

“They (the Kurds) are denying Kirkuk of its petro-dollar share,” he said.

Ubaidi also lashed out at the presence of Kurdish militias in the province, particularly those stationed in the provincial center.

“The deployment of Peshmerga (Kurdish militias) in the province is a factor worsening security conditions and adding to Kirkuk’s problems,” Ubaidi said.

Both Shiite and Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk have united in their denunciation of Kurdish militias in their province.

They have aligned themselves with Turkmen, another sizeable minority in Kirkuk opposing the presence of Kurdish militias.

It is not clear what type of position the Arabs and Turkmen will adopt following reports that the Kurds were not only using force to spread their control over the province but clandestinely working to steal its oil.\2012-03-12\kurd.htm