Iraqi PM to Secessionist Kurds: “You’re Playing with Fire!”

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.

h/t BBC

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.

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See Ali Abootalibi on the Kurdistan crisis at Informed Comment
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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.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Newsy: “US won’t support Kurdistan’s independence vote”

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Posted in Featured | 12 Responses | Print |

12 Responses

  1. The Sunnis oppressed the Shiites, now the Shiites can oppress the Sunnis, and everybody oppresses the Kurds!

    Even Uncle Sam. Maybe now the Kurds are realizing that Americans only wanted them to do the heavy lifting as ground troops in pursuit of the USA’s objectives — the US has never been concerned for what’s best for the Kurdish people. The US loves a corrupt status quo and dislikes threats posed by new nations that might resist American dominance (altho’ we encourage anything like what went on in Ukraine if it threatens the Russians, and favored the Kosovars over the Serbs for somewhat similar reasons).

    Maybe now the Kurds are waking up to ponder the fate of abandoned peoples after Uncle Sam no longer needs them as cat’s paws.

  2. your map suggests that Kurds are in Northwest Iran, rather than in the Northeast, which abuts Turkmenistan.

  3. I presume some level of collaboration among most or all Kurdish groups.

    The YPG forces acting as a cat’s paw for the US military in Syria are currently cleansing out Arab Syrians from large swaths of Eastern Syria,
    to take land that will form the foundation of a future Kurdish state.
    This territory includes the lower Euphrates River Valley, the border with Iraq, and everything in between.

    It is YPG who is doing the ethnic cleansing on the ground, but they are acting under the nominal direction and with the support of the US military. In fact, their success in battle on the ground depends completely on the bombing, reconnaissance and other air support from the US Air Force.

    So who is responsible for this “Ethnic Cleansing ?”
    The YPG on the ground,
    or the US DOD calling the shots ?

  4. The Kurds have served their purpose so one should not be surprised if the countries who used them to fight ISIS, etc. now want to eliminate them. The U.S.A. and others will simply stand by. They did it when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds and nothing has changed. Although this time the Kurds are better fighters and are better armed. whatever these countries do they might want to give the Kurds their own space. they’ve worked hard enough defending against ISIS, etc. Of course no one being that smart will simply start fighting with the Kurds which will give ISIS a new beginning and perhaps some where else to fight, like helping the KURDS.

    The Kurds need their own country and the rest of the middle east owes them that much. Of course the Pres. of Turkey isn’t going to do that. He’d rather they just disappear. He sees them as a challenge to his status, like wise the Presidents of Iraq and Iran. I do wonder what the west will do when the other countries try to murder all of the Kurds? O.K. I know the answer, the same as they are doing for the Rohiningya, NOTHING.

    • Maybe they haven’t served their purpose. Maybe Uncle Sam envisions them carving out a “Rojava” in Eastern Syria.

      But this is not viable, for several reasons. Any Kurdish state would have to occupy land that is currently part of Turkey, Syria, Iraq or Iran. No country ever willingly gives up part of its territory. The creation of a Kurdish state in even one of the four countries mentioned above would unite all of them against this; all other issues between them would be at least temporarily shelved, as they fear their own Kurdish areas would want to secede and attach themselves to the new Kurdish entity.

      For whatever reason, the Turks consider the Kurds an existential threat, and surely they would invade, full-bore to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state, and the other nations involved would do likewise.

      And if somehow it got off the ground? It would be an entirely landlocked country, surrounded by hostile powers. All they would have to do is shut down the borders, and economically, it would all collapse.

      Unfortunately for the Kurds, they don’t hold a good hand. It seems few people in the region trust them, geography is against them, and Kurdish independence is a red line for all the regional powers.

      Since all they hold is a busted flush, the best they can do is negotiate for some limited local autonomy within the four countries where they live.

      Antoinetta III

  5. A bit late in the game, no? Iraq’s governments – going back even before Saddam – had ample opportunity to better integrate the Kurdish population. The chickens are only coming home to roost.

  6. Referendum is a stunt and a good one, from a long past its expiration date presidency playing Kurdish nationalism for personal political gain. Turkey is building a wall, Iran shooting at porters and Bagdad has just about had it with this relic of Saddam era and the timing is a big inconvenience for big powers.
    It has brought Iran and turkey closer and can unite Arabs and isolate the Kurds.

  7. Any Kurdish state would be landlocked and reliant on Syria, Iraq, Iran or Turkey to allow imports and exports over their shared borders. They are going to need a good relationship with at least one of them to become a viable state.

  8. Despite my affection and admiration for the Kurds, I believe that holding the referendum for independence is wrong and potentially very dangerous.

    It is not the first time that the Kurds have had dreams of independence. During the First World War, trying to weaken the Ottoman Empire, Western powers promised the Kurds independence, but following the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) Kurdish territory was partitioned between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

    In 1961 Mustafa Barzani, the father of Massoud Barzani, the current president of the Iraqi Kurdistan, started a rebellion under the slogan “autonomy for Kurdistan, democracy for Iraq”, but he failed to achieve either.

    In the 1970s the Shah used the Kurds in his conflict against Saddam, but when he reached the Algiers Accord with Saddam in 1975 he abandoned the Kurds, but at least he took all the Kurdish leaders to Iran and provided them with comfortable lives.

    The Iraqi Kurds were given a degree of autonomy in 1980s as the result of the no-fly zone, and after US invasion of Iraq a referendum was held in 2005 with 98% of the eligible voters supporting the region’s autonomy. The latest bid for independence will also fail due to a number of reasons:

    1- Contrary to some assumptions, the Kurds are not a unified ethno-linguistic or religious group. Kurdish belongs to the group of old Iranian languages, but nowadays the Kurds have three distinct dialects, Kurmanji, Sorani and Pahlawani. Several million Kurds also speak a non-Kurdish language, namely Zaza-Gorani. Some of these languages are written in Roman script, and others in Arabic script. The speakers of these different dialects often cannot communicate with other Kurds.

    2- Today, the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), is riven by a split between a Western region dominated by the party of President Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP); and an eastern region where the party of former Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), holds sway. The KDP is based in the ‘capital’ of Erbil. The PUK, more left-of-centre, modernist and leaning towards Iran, holds sway around Sulaymaniyah. These two parties fought a civil war in the 1990s. Then there is the PKK, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States, and recently there have been growing Islamist groups among the Kurds.

    3- Since the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Israelis have been using the Kurds in their conflict against Iran. The Israelis believe that the independence of the Kurds as another non-Arab group, especially if they can turn them against Iran, would be helpful to them. Recently, the New Yorker magazine alleged that Israeli intelligence and military forces were active in Kurdish areas of Iran, Syria and Iraq, running secret operations that could destabilize the entire region. Israel has also played a big role in training Kurdish security forces since 2003. So the push for Kurdish independence is not completely homegrown, but has a number of foreign backers with ulterior motives.

    4- For once, the issue of the referendum has brought Iran and the United States to the same side. Furthermore, Iraqi, Turkish and Syrian governments, as well as France and Britain and EU as a whole are opposed to Kurdish independence. In the face of almost unanimous opposition, except for Israel and some Saudi funding, it would be counterproductive and dangerous for the Kurds to push for independence

    The answer to Kurdish problem is not independence but more autonomy and greater democracy in all the countries were they live.

  9. “Turkey is 20% Kurdish and is determined to stay that way.”

    Not true. Turkey is determined to lose no territory; Kurds are optional.

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