In September the Kurdish people held a peaceful vote on independence and the result was an overwhelming majority in favour of creating a new nation-state. The final vote was 92.7 in favour of secession and 7.3% opposed. The independence vote was not legally permitted by the Iraqi government but due to the country’s current security situation Baghdad was unable to prevent the vote from taking place. Since this vote an economic blockade has been imposed by Iran and Turkey and flights into Kurdistan have been diverted to other parts of Iraq. Amid these tensions the government in Erbil has said that they are seeking to negotiate with Baghdad about Kurdistan’s future, and they have reiterated this stance in the face of continued pressure.
Iraq is going to change. After repeated calls from governments around the world to postpone the vote, Iraqi Kurds conducted a referendum on independence and overwhelmingly backed the creation of a new state. With all precincts reporting, over 92% of residents in Iraqi Kurdistan voted to support the proposition with only 7% of voters backing continuing as part of Iraq. Overall turnout was around 72%. Although this exercise in democracy should be seen as a positive development, the other players in Middle Eastern geopolitics are not respecting the result and are now trying to coerce Kurds into remaining within Iraq.
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.
One of the most inspirational movements of political history was the movement for female suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a struggle by a disenfranchised group that sought to radically transform how the existing political order functioned, and succeeded despite the fact that none of their group were in the corridors of power. Men and women came together to rectify an injustice that in modern discourse could only be conceived of as a thought experiment rather than as a serious policy proposal. Thankfully in democratic countries this arbitrary distinction has been removed, but the campaign for women’s suffrage can, in my view, easily compared to the struggle for Kurdish liberation. On the surface this may seem like a bit of stretch but hopefully this article will convince you of my case.
On the campaign trail Donald Trump paid lip service to the idea of non-intervention by arguing from a position of economic nationalism. Any illusion that he was intending to reduce the role of the American military in the world has now been shattered, but this is not especially surprising given his temperament. In response to the suspected chemical attack in Idlib province on Tuesday, the US military has launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syrian military installations. The targets are centred on the Shayrat Airfield south of the Syrian city of Homs and were designed to cripple the Assad government’s aerial capability. Everything about this is situation is terrible.
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 →
The Middle East is one complicated place. Pretty much any statement about the geopolitical situation of the region has to have an asterisk by it to account for exceptions and anomalies. Take the example of ISIS. The West is fighting ISIS along with Russia, Iran, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban just to name a few. This puts the West in a difficult position. For example it is very difficult for the US to criticise the Russians for supporting Bashir al-Assad when all three are fighting against the same enemy. Continue reading →