Forces close to the de facto border between Iraq and Kurdistan have been moved from Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk, to Anbar province. The move by the US-led global coalition is important in reassuring the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) that Baghdad is not seeking to maintain the unity of Iraq by force. On Wednesday the KRG accused the Iraqi government of preparing to attack the region in retaliation for the area’s recent vote in favour of secession. These fears are justified as within days of the Kurdish referendum on independence, Iraqi forces conducted joint military exercises with Turkey and Iran. But constant state of tension points to a larger question: will Iraqi forces attack Kurdistan?
For a number of months I’ve been covering the ongoing situation in Kurdistan both in terms of the fight against ISIS and in regard to their desire for an independent nation-state. Opponents of the independence referendum on 25th September have sought to conflate these two issues and argue that an independent Kurdistan would only strengthen ISIS’ hand. This is patently false as a strong Kurdish state would challenge Saudi Arabia’s influence in the region therefore undermining some of the ideological foundations of groups like ISIS. Further, if Turkey continued to bomb Kurdish forces and civilians Erbil could turn to international institutions like the UN thus forcing hostile powers to refocus on the fight against ISIS. It appears, however, that the Iraqi government in Baghdad has a different view.
Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region in the north-east of the country and has a somewhat fractured relationship with the government in Baghdad. Relations between the two authorities is much better than under Saddam Hussein, although this is a very low bar, but there remains a perception in Erbil that the Iraqi central government is both corrupt and incompetent. It is this perception that last week resulted in leading politicians announcing that the region would hold a referendum on independence from Iraq. This development is something that I have long argued for and could be a game-changer for the Middle East.
A new year gives us the opportunity to soberly re-evaluate the ongoing crises of our world and one of the most pronounced areas of instability is the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. People like myself who argue against Western intervention in order to undermine ISIS’ narrative of Christian crusaders need to provide a coherent alternative. I think this is possible. At this point in time a lasting political solution to the Syrian crisis look unlikely but those of us who advocate a diplomatic end to the war need to think laterally. Continue reading →
To repeat so many who have come before: there is trouble in the Middle East. Unlike crises that become standard fare for those of us caught up with current affairs, like problems in Afghanistan and the Israel-Palestine conflict, this latest dispute has wide-reaching political and economic consequences for the world. By executing 47 people under such dubious circumstances Saudi Arabia, who in the eyes of the West could previously do no wrong, have gone too far.