The three months it took to cobble together a government in Iraq after January's election shows the depth of the divisions between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities. In the north of the country the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds are close to civil war. Their savage skirmishes, around the oil city of Kirkuk and in the streets of Mosul, are generally unreported in Baghdad. The war of 2003 made the Kurds the north's dominant power. They are no longer penned in their mountains, or in their decrepit cities crowded with refugees from the 3800 villages destroyed by Saddam Hussein. But their advance south is contested by the Sunni Arabs, everywhere on the retreat but able to stage daily suicide bomb attacks, ambushes and assassinations. On 4 May a man with explosives attached to his body blew himself up in a queue of young men trying to join the police in Arbil, killing 60 of them and wounding 150. Ghassan Attiyah, a political commentator in Baghdad, told me that 'the Kurds were able to destabilise Iraq for half a century under Saddam Hussein and his predecessors. The Sunni Arabs are certainly strong enough to do the same thing if they want to.'
LRB 19 May 2005 | PDF Download