KIRKUK, Iraq — I was just about to press the shutter on my camera outside the Iraqi Turkmen Front’s (ITC) provincial office in Kirkuk, the nerve center of the Turkmen cause in the city, when a security guard holding an automatic rifle emerged from his nearby booth and entered the frame, posing like a hardened warrior under the scorching sun. I should have known that very moment that the Turkmens were taking up arms. Once inside the building, I listened to heated discussions about the future of Turkmeneli (Turkmen lands), driven by the argument that the creation of an armed militia was now inevitable. In a few days, ITC leader Arshad Salihi and his comrades would appear before the press, brandishing arms, and formally announce their decision to form such a force.
The “Sunni insurgency” against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) along with opposition from Sunni tribes, Baathists and some Sufi groups, presented the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) with its long-awaited opportunity to take control of Kirkuk. Kurdish peshmerga took over bases and checkpoints abandoned by the Iraqi army in Kirkuk and assumed control of security in Tuz Khormato, whose Turkmen population is in the majority. The question the Turkmen are now trying to answer is how it is going to respond if the current control by peshmergas, justified for now by the need to provide security against the ISIS threat, becomes permanent? With the Zab River now a de facto border, a poster hanging on Governorate Avenue clearly presents the Kurdish position: “The peshmerga will provide security all over Kurdistan.”