Iraq in last Throes as Kurdistan Seeks Independence, Syria & Iran intervene

By Juan Cole

Former Vice President and unindicted felon Richard Bruce Cheney (they always give the criminals’ names that way, in full) once said that he was sure that the Sunni Arab resistance to the US in Iraq was in its last throes. Nobody in his own administration agreed with him then, and this allegation is one I think we can safely add to the extensive lists of things he has been dead wrong about. ( At the time, I explained what ‘last throes” are, here.

Now, precisely because Iraq’s Sunni Arabs won’t put up with the new order Cheney tried to impose on the, it is the whole country of Iraq that is in its last throes.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s mission to Baghdad and Irbil appears to be a bust. He is alleged to have told the political class in Baghdad that they’d have to dump Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki if they want American aid, and that they’d have to form a government of national unity and make a place at the table for the Sunni Arabs. There is no sign that his jeremiads were taken seriously.

It is even reported that Nouri al-Maliki assured Kerry that he could form a government by the beginning of July.

Al-Maliki wasn’t listening. Kerry doesn’t just want a new government of national unity, he wants al-Maliki gone.

Then Kerry flew up to Irbil, the capital of the Kurdistan superprovince of Iraq. It had consisted of three former provinces of Iraq. But the Kurds have added a fourth, Kirkuk Province, and part of a fifth (northeast Diyala Province) to their semi-autonomous region (think Quebec on steroids).

Kerry asked Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani to help form the government of national unity in Baghdad.

Barzani blew him off big time!

He told CNN,

“β€œit is time now for the Kurdistan people to determine their future . . . Iraq is obviously falling apart anyway, and it’s obvious that a federal or central government has lost control over everything,”

The London Pan-Arab daily al-Hayat says that its sources in Erbil are saying that Barzani told Kerry that he planned to secede from Iraq and that the US would have to accept it.

Experienced Iraq journalists are speculating that Kurdistan could declare complete independence within days.

While once upon a time that step would have been completely unacceptable to Turkey, by now Ankara appears to have made its peace with the notion. Turkey is responsible for 70% of investment in Kurdistan, and the Kurds are willing to supply Turkey with their oil on favorable terms. In the way of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), its leaders may be confident that their economic colonization of Iraqi Kurdistan will be enough to keep it from spinning out of control.

Kurdistan seems to be putting into play possible Kurdish steps toward independence. But the detachment of large swathes of Iraq from the Baghdad government by Kurdish paramilitary forces or Peshmerga (he who stands before death) is meeting opposition not only from Sunni Arab militias but also from extremist Shiite ones, who mind this detachment of Arab territory from the fatherland.

Meanwhile, Syrian and Iraqi fighter jets hit positions at Syria border crossings in Rutbah and Qa’im Wednesday morning, which ISIS has taken over. The Arabic presss says that over 70 persons are dead.

Al-Arabiya is reporting that Iran is threatening to intervene to protect Shiite shrines in Iraq.

As for the Iraqi Army, its officer corps seems unwilling or unable to mount a counter-offensive agains the ISIS fightes across. They are drawing up for a defensive action in hopes they can keep Bagdad.

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Related video:

Reuters: “Kerry urges Kurds to save Iraq from collapse”

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Related book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

21 Responses

  1. ” Iraqi officials told the Guardian that two divisions of Iraqi soldiers – roughly 30,000 men – simply turned and ran in the face of the assault by an insurgent force of just 800 fighters. Isis extremists.”

    As Rand Paul said this Sunday to a dumbfounded warmonger David Gregory, “If the people of Iraq are not willing to die for their country, how can I convince American parents I should send their sons to die in Iraq.?”

    One still has to wonder at the Pollyanna nature of the US as Kerry asked Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani to help form the government of national unity in Baghdad, which will have about as much impact as the now deceased Rodney King saying, “Can’t we all just get along?”

  2. Iraqi Shiites seem to be taking their time, almost as if they are waiting for a Superpower to arrive and fight and die for them. Paging all Superpowers, please pick up the tan colored phone…

  3. Sunnis had their chance to be at the table. They chose not to be. Why should they? They ran the place for decades so why shouldn’t that be allowed to continue?

  4. Iraqi Shiites have the regional superpower (Iran) solidly on their side; they (as opposed to Maliki) may not want the US to intervene.

    • Maliki wants U.S. special forces in the country, but no more than 300 and all of them hundreds of miles away in Anbar Provence. When they leave, Maliki wants them to exit by going through Syria.

      He’s not taking any chances on an American coup. Maliki has his own deck of cards, actually it’s a poker hand—Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, the commie in Ukraine. The hand just needs one more card to be complete.

      “GULP!”

  5. With US acquiescence, the Yinon Plan Is unfolding -

    “The plan operates on two essential premises. To survive, Israel must 1) become an imperial regional power, and 2) must effect the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states.”

  6. I find Maliki again utterly baffling. He always seemed remarkable dull, possibly even quite stupid or not-up-to-the-job. I recall so well how America (Bush and the press) demonized him (before they turned their guns on Karzai) until he finally appeared to have “proved himself” to them by attacking Sadr City suggesting, apparently, that the true test of leadership is a willingness to kill your own … because once “proved his mettle” in this way, criticism stopped.
    I have never seen even a flicker of “vision” in him. He seems poised to “go down with the ship” … apparently various people in state are reflexively pushing Chalabbi and/or Alwawi — both of whom have preexisting enemies who deeply deeply hate them, for cause. Oh well, the fall of Maliki appears to grieve no one … hopefully he’ll get out alive … Paris, London, Rio …

    • Malaki is not stupid, he has proven himself very crafty. Wish he had better ambitions for Iraq.

      Whats wrong with Alawi? He certainly talks a good game. Hard to imagine there are a lot of other Shiite politicians able to attract Sunni votes.

      • The trick is to “attract votes” without attracting bullets or bombs… As anomie advances, the latter are in much better supply.

  7. The Kurds can’t save Iraq any more than the US can. Kerry’s visits to Maliki and Barzani were both fool’s errands.

    • I doubt that Kerry is naive. I expect he accepts that Kurds are headed for independence. Goal is to patch together agreement to halt immediate slide into a bloodbath.

      Kerry can hardly be faulted for trying.

      • I don’t fault Kerry for trying. He did what he had to do, and I expect he knew his attempts would not meet with success.

  8. The situation is simple…

    Maliki owes Iran – big time. Iran and Maliki are Shiite. Iran has NO CHIOCE but to come to Maliki’s aid. They will – I guarantee it!

    How ironic it will be for Iran to be invited in to fight in Iraq against the Sunni’s who had invaded Iran from Iraq in the Iraq (US) vs Iran war.

    As to ISIS – what a joke – Iran will crush them. Quickly, viciously and will great joy. For America – to even think of getting involved is just seriously stupid. Iran will handle this.

    After all this is just the end game of Bush’s War when he decided on a sectarian war against the Sunni’s by the Shiites – the patrons of Iran. Bush could not be more stupid…America is still paying the price for having elected the most incompetent President in their history – incompetent on every level – and on every level – the US is still reeling from his destruction. And you can’t even blame Bush, the US elected the bag of bolts TWICE.

    Pathetic!

  9. What started one hundred years ago this Saturday on the western end of the old Ottoman empire is happening today on the Eastern end and at a faster and faster speed. Much like World War I, this is also an uncontrollable chain of events.

    Both terrible and fascinating at the same time.

  10. Kurdish independence is inevitable. Priority today is survival. Kurdistan needs foreign aid to bolster its defenses. They should maneuver politically in whatever way garners that aid.

    A lot of the larger media outlets have been publishing big-picture stories about Kurdistan, how they are the big winners with their acquisition of Kirkuk, and how the Peshmerga are brave, fierce, unbeatable, cheerful, loyal and thrifty.

    I’ve scoured the internet news for more detail the past week, and the full picture is not so rosy. The Peshmerga may have excellent morale, but they are lightly armed compared to ISIS. There are shortages of everything from ammunition to petrol.

    The Peshmerga have a 600 KM perimeter to defend, no aircraft to speak of to do surveillance. They are stretched very thin. I’ve seen no instance of the Peshmerga actually pushing ISIS out of any position, they’ve only occupied abandoned territory. Down south in Diyala, they’ve failed to clear town of Jalula after two weeks. ISIS is ever more dug-in in Sa’adia. These are Kurdish towns with strategic value.

    Peshmerga holds only a dangerously thin buffer south & west of Kirkuk. Lots of skirmishes close to city. There is a large, hostile Sunni population just west in Hawija.

    I see tonight that ISIS is getting aggressive near Mosul.
    link to aina.org

    I worry that ISIS is gaining strength, and will be able in time to focus superior firepower on key areas, like Kirkuk, or say the Syrian border area where the Peshmerga are overextended.

    Malaki stopped sharing oil revenues with Kurdistan back in February. The recent sales through Turkey help, but I read that it will take about two years for Kurds to restore lost revenue levels. They’ve had to layoff lots of government workers.

    This is a very vulnerable time for Kurdistan, and it could get worse soon. I hope some combination of Turkey, U.S. or Israel gets them better armed. Brother, can you spare a surveillance drone?

  11. As we watch this unfold, keep in mind that one effect will be to destroy any Middle Eastern regime that in any way opposes Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Draw your own conclusions…

    • Events playing out in Syria and Iraq do seem like they are part of Doug Feith’s “A Clean Break” written in 1996. However, ISIS was not part of the plan and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein wound up playing right into Iran’s hands.

      I think what started out as a neoconservative plan to change the entire Middle East has now become a chain of events where no one has control. It’ll will have to play out much like the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand led to WWI, the Great Depression, rise of Hitler and WWII.

      • I agree. A partitioned Iraq weakens the Arab world, but not necessarily Israel’s enemies. If the discussion about Turkey’s co-optation of Kurdistan with cash is accurate, that’s not a win for Israel. Nor is the entry of Iranian troops to save Bagdad in the future. Which leaves ISIS, a front for the extremism inherent in the Arab monarchies. One day, the Saudis will be so damn powerful that they won’t need the US anymore – then who will force them to obey Israel?

  12. The U.S. didn’t want to send weapons to the “wrong” rebels in Syria, but somehow they ended up in the hands of ISIS. But that was okay because they were fighting Assad. But now that they are attacking the friends of Iran in Baghdad, that’s not so okay. What it all boils down to is that in the Middle East, “the enemy of my enemy is my enemy.”

    Obama miscalculated when he judged the stability and strength of the Iraqi regime. He is making the same mistake in Afghanistan. But the reality of it is that there is only one country the U.S. has to ensure does not fall into the hands of militant Islamists… Pakistan. If that happens… game over.

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