By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
Iraqi prime minister Haydar al-Abadi threatened on Saturday to deploy military force against Iraqi Kurdistan if it goes through with the referendum on independence authorized Friday by its regional parliament. The Kurds, he said, are “playing with fire.” The referendum is set to be held on September 25.
Iraq is about 60% Shiite Arab, 22% Kurdish, and the rest is mostly Sunni Arabs with some small sects and a few Chaldean Christians.
Turkey is 20% Kurdish and is determined to stay that way.
Iran, a country of 78 million, has about 4 million Kurds in its northwest
northeast, but has repeatedly showed its willingness to deploy force.
See Ali Abootalibi on the Kurdistan crisis at Informed Comment
In the meantime, the United Nations suggested to the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that he mothball plans for a referendum and instead embark on a 3-year-long process of negotiations with Baghdad with the aim of reaching a compromise acceptable to both sides, under UN auspices.
Barzani declined the offer.
The British government expressed concern that Barzani’s plans will roil the region at a time when resources must be pooled to defeat ISIL.
Turkey and Iran, both with large Kurdish minorities. expressed anxiety about the referendum.
Iran pointed out that its Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) saved the Kurds from ISIL in summer of 2014.
Given that the Iraqi army collapsed in June of 2014 and has only slowly been
rebuilt, I don’t think Iraq has the military resources to invade Kurdistan. The Kurdish peshmerga militia is quite good, but I was surprised how poorly they did against ISIL three years ago. Neither side may have the high-powered military they think they do.
Moreover, Turkey and Iran are neighbors and won’t let the KRG secede if they can help it.
ISIL will certainly take advantage of this turmoil.
Related video added by Juan Cole: