KELE BI Iraq (Reuters) – A grave, freshly dug and adorned with pebbles, is the modest tribute to one more sacrifice in the long history of struggle for an independent Kurdish state.
Hogir Fathi was looking forward to home leave in his village in autonomous Kurdistan when the 24-year-old, a fighter in the Iraqi region’s peshmerga forces, was killed by a bomb while on the frontline against Islamist militants who last month drove the Iraqi army from most of the north outside the Kurdish zone.
“I am proud my son was martyred,” said his father, Mehdi, himself a peshmerga, who fought the army of Saddam Hussein. “There is no sacrifice too great for an independent Kurdistan.”
A century after the Kurds lost out in the carve-up of the Ottoman empire after World War One, denied a state of their own and left scattered across four others, that dream is suddenly closer as fighting among Iraq’s Arabs – minority Sunnis and the Shi’ites in power – fuels talk of the country being partitioned.
The Kurds of Iraq, who have governed themselves since U.S. air power pinned back the Sunni dictator Saddam after the 1991 Gulf War, have already exploited the chaos to expand their territory by as much as 40 percent, including the oilfields and city of Kirkuk, which they claim as their national capital.
Their president last week called for a referendum on secession. And there is little doubt it would overwhelmingly back independence, as an unofficial plebiscite did in 2005.
But economics and external pressures, from Baghdad but also from rival allies in Turkey, Iran and Washington, may well hold Kurdish leaders back from risking a final break any time soon.
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