Kurdish Peshmerga cadets exercise during a 28-day course at an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk
Kurdish Peshmerga cadets exercise during a 28-day course at an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, 250 km (150 miles) north of Baghdad Aug. 10, 2010. REUTERS

A famous Kurdish proverb says, “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains," and they have long been described as the biggest nation of the world without a state.

But that may be changing as the ethnic group scattered across northern Iraq and Turkey shows its mettle during the current Iraq crisis and is now in possession of Iraq’s fourth-largest oil field, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The Kurdish move is just the latest piece of a decades-long strategic game of cat-and-mouse that's seen both sides, the Iraqi central government and the Kurds, claim the region and hold it at various times.

In 2003, U.S. Special Forces took control of Kirkuk, known in some circles as the "Kurdish Jerusalem." amid concern that control by the Kurds, who had moved in among the chaos of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, would draw their traditional enemy the Turks into the war.

The Bloomberg report said that Kurdish troops, known as Peshmergas, were now in control of an area stretching from Iraq’s eastern border with Iran to Fishkabur, an Iraqi town near Turkey, Bloomberg said, citing Jabbar Yawar, Peshmerga Ministry secretary-general.

Iraq's Oil Infrastructure. Platt's

That region contains an oil field that the Iraqi government and BP PLC have been trying to revitalize, the report said.

“Currently all disputed areas are inside the Kurdistan region or protected by the region’s forces. It is not possible that the Iraqi government return and fill these huge areas that it left," Yawar told Bloomberg on Monday

A recent report by Al Jazeera nicely sums up the Kurd's historic relationship to the Kirkuk region:

The proverbial promised land, Kirkuk, less than 100km from the Kurdish regional capital, Erbil, has been a bone of contention for at least a century, and the center of a war over demographics since the mid-1960s. Mainly made up of Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians and Arabs, each have their own claims on the historic city.

Until the discovery of oil in Kirkuk shortly after World War I, some claimed the city was mainly populated by Turkmen, who traced their arrival in the area back to the Seljuk period in the 10th century - although this is fiercely disputed. The Kurds have viewed Kirkuk as their capital since Sulayman Beg - of the ruling Baban clan - gained control of the province sometime in the 18th century.

In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne annexed the Ottoman Vilayet of Mosul, which included the city of Kirkuk, to the newly formed Kingdom of Iraq. The nascent oil industry spurred work opportunities for Iraqis from various parts of the country and somewhat altered the original demography of the city.

In the early 1970s, Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani, father of the current KRG president, laid formal claim to Kirkuk's oilfields. This prompted Baghdad to ramp up its "Arabisation" campaign in the city.

According to Human Rights Watch, the regime of Saddam Hussein systematically expelled hundreds of thousands Kurds and Assyrians from Kirkuk and its environs, and resettled Arab families in their places.

During the last decade, the Kurds have waged an active re-Kurdification process in the city. Since April 2003, thousands of internally displaced Kurds have returned to Kirkuk and other formerly Arabised regions to reclaim their homes and lands.

Today, the Kurds believe that a census would show a solid Kurdish majority in the city, even though the demographic composition of the city remains contentious. A referendum on whether Kirkuk province should become part of Iraqi Kurdistan was due to be held in 2007, but it has been delayed repeatedly due to the lack of security and political will.

Brent crude oil prices topped $113 per barrel on Monday as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continue their campaign to topple the Iraqi government.

Brent prices were their highest and Brent volatility rose to 13 percent on June 12 from a 26-year-low of 7.2 percent just 10 days earlier. Brent crude, a type of sweet crude oil sourced from the North Sea, is used as a price benchmark for other crude oils.

Iraq is OPEC’s second-largest producer of oil, and the instability has the market worried about the country's ability to maintain production amid a brutal conflict that has the potential to devolve into a civil war along sectarian lines.

Currently the Iraqi government has given up plans to reopen a pipeline in the region that runs to Turkey, after several attacks crippled it this year.

As late as 2007 the Kirkuk oil fields produced up to half of Iraq's crude oil production, according to Globalsecurity.org. That year, according to the group:

Kirkuk is the center of Iraq's oil industry and is connected by pipelines to ports on the Mediterranean Sea. The Kirkuk field, originally brought online by IPC in 1934, still forms the basis for northern Iraqi oil production. Kirkuk has over 10 billion barrels of remaining proven oil reserves. After about seven decades of operation, Kirkuk still produces up to one million barrels a day, almost half of Iraqi exports.