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Iraqi Kurds maneuver between Maliki and Mosul

The Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq may have gained some leverage on Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki for now, but the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) may be trouble in the future.
Members of the Kurdish security forces take part in an intensive security deployment on the outskirts of Kirkuk June 12, 2014. Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) overran the northern city of Mosul earlier this week and have since pressed south towards Baghdad in an onslaught against the Shi'ite-led government. The Kurds, who run their own autonomous region in the north, have taken advantage of the chaos to expand their territory, taking control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and

The swift attack on Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and relatively bloodless withdrawal of US-trained Iraqi security forces has further weakened Baghdad’s influence over northern territories. The political vacuum has enabled the Kurds to expand their land claims and leverage Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for concessions on their oil exports. Yet, the role of radical Baathist military officials in the Mosul coup and their links to ISIS also exposes the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to important security and political challenges. The KRG will not only have to secure greater territories and populations from extremist groups on its borders, but also maneuver its nationalist agenda through radicalized Sunni Arab populations that may be even more resistant than Maliki and Shiite groups.

In some ways, the Mosul attack is a coup for the Kurds. It occurred just as the KRG was locked in another battle with Maliki over oil exports and revenues, and as its Turkish energy partner was subjected to international litigation. The ISIS attack shifted media attention, at least temporarily, from an embarrassing situation of a wandering ship unable to offload contentious Kurdish crude to a scenario of KRG strength; assisting refugees, securing borders, and taking Kirkuk in the midst of a serious political crisis.

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