Iraq strikes Back: Kurds under air travel ban, Turkey blocks Oil

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Iraqi parliament on Wednesday passed a resolution demanding that the Iraqi army take control of the province of Kirkuk and reclaim the Kirkuk oil fields as a national patrimony. The parliament also demanded that the government arrest and try Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani for treason. Oil-rich Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic province with Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, was seized in 2014 by the Kurdistan paramilitary in hopes of adding it to Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniya, the three Iraqi provinces melded into the Kurdistan Regional Government super-province. Baghdad claims Kirkuk province for itself and wants to reestablish a military presence there now that ISIL is largely defeated.

Meanwhile, the Baghdad government is using its international recognition to impose an air flight ban on Iraqi Kurdistan in the wake of this week’s referendum, in which 92% of the 8 million Iraqi Kurds are said to have voted for independence.

Iraqi prime minister Haydar al-Abadi has given the KRG authorities an ultimatum that they must withdraw their Peshmerga paramilitary from all international airports (i.e. those in Erbil and Sulaymaniya) and must turn over all border checkpoints to the Iraqi army rather than manning them themselves.

Even before the Iraqi army collapsed in June of 2014, when its troops fled advancing ISIL fighters, the Peshmerga in Kurdistan had taken up substantial security duties, including inside Arab Iraq far from the formal border of the KRG with other Iraqi provinces. The Obama administration attempted to rebuild the Iraqi army, but only three counter-terrorism brigades are thought capable of fighting effectively and without US command.

In the meantime, Iraq is contacting international air carriers and instructing them not to fly to Erbil or Sulaymaniya in the KRG. Since by international law Iraq is recognized as sovereign over all its territory, airlines have been complying with al-Abadi’s request already. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran and Turkey have all ceased flying to Iraqi Kurdistan.

As isolating as the Iraqi moves are, Turkey can hurt the KRG even more badly. President Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to cut off oil exports from Iraqi Kurdistan through the Cayhan pipeline. Turkey is also ceasing food exports to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdistan is landlocked and surrounded by hostile governments who do not want it to secede from Iraq. In going ahead with the referendum, Barzani put his country on a collision course with the whole world.

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Related video:

Aljazeera English: “Kurdish referendum: Baghdad demands Erbil to hand over airports, border posts”

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15 Responses

  1. I wonder where the Americans will stand in this business of banning air flights to and from the Kurdish territory? I seem to remember that the Kurds’ were very friendly and cooperative the the USA when the Iraq war was in full swing and they were spared the ravages of bombing by the US and others in the coalition. If the Iraqi government forces do attack this province then there will be yet another civil war in Iraq. I would have thought Iraq had had enough bloodshed and destruction already and not be wanting to start yet another conflict. It will be interesting to see if Iraq calls on the US air force to carry out bombing raids and if they do, will the Americans oblige or perhaps remember the Kurdish cooperation in the previous fighting with Saddam Hussein?

  2. I understand the actual wording of the referendum was: Do you want the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region to become an independent state? . It’s like one of those frustrating drop down menus where none of the options is what you actually want. A 92% ‘yes’ vote does not necessarily mean ‘now, this minute’. I have seen interviews with mostly rural but also other Kurds who appeared to feel strongly that this was simply not the right time. I imagine most people, Kurdish or not, would agree with that. It would be much better, surely, for Baghdad to acknowledge the result as an issue to de dealt with later and kick the can. This is a problem we have in the world today, there’s no one to calm these face off situations. Perhaps Putin will have to step in.

      • The interviewees I mentioned also wanted independence but thought the timing was not right for a referendum. There was no way to express that.

    • This self serving gamble paid off for Barzani, had referendum been a presidential or parliamentary election, the Kurd would had a strong hand for Autonomy and slim chance Barzani and his clan would be on top, Now Bagdad has the attention and cooperation of neighboring capitals and a much stronger hand. At the end of the day, Barzani’s Kurdistan has to settle for weaker autonomy and a stronger federal role.

  3. I remember 60 Minutes, the program that is to Israel what RT is to Russia, praising the Kurds for their more or less pro Israel stance. This is supported by our very own Zionist of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, saying about the vote…”The Kurds deserve their own homeland.” That always works out well.

  4. Prof Cole, I’d like to hear your views on the the legitimacy of the Kurdish and Iraqi positions. And your prognosis.

  5. America can create an air corridor like they did in Berlin. Send supplies in and airlift oil out for export and payment for supplies. Trump would love that US would be making a profit out of the mission.

  6. I remember being in Croatia a few years ago and talking to a middle aged shopkeeper about the economy and the 1990s war of independence. He didn’t say it (independence) was a mistake, but he lamented the barriers the new borders caused his business, and said that there was no longer money to pay for education like there had been when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia; and this conversation took place many years after Croatia emerged from the isolation it enjoyed under unindicted war criminal and fascist wackjob Franjo Tuđman. If anyone deserves a state it is the Kurds, but if they get it, the region’s states will blight the chances of the next generation out of spite.

  7. Of course, if the Kurds deserve their own homeland , what about the Palestinians? Schemer and his buddy Netanyahu have a clear double standard. But that is nothing new to the Israel Lobby.

  8. This is about to get, um, fugly. The Kurds deserve their own nation but its neighbors are going to do their best to strangle that hope – much as they’ve done since 1919.

  9. They are secular, democratic, and kicked ISIS’ ass. If anyone deserves their own state it is the Kurds. But in this highly unenlightened era of thuggery we live in, I’m not surprised at the response.

  10. The Americans will stand aside, mouth polite nothings, and sell out their Kurdish cat’s paw once the Kurds no longer serve Uncle Sam’s purposes, I’d bet the house on it. It’s too bad the Kurds didn’t see it coming; they should have (remembering the Vietnamese Montagnards, among others).

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