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?
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.
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.
On 25th September the people of Iraqi Kurdistan will vote on whether or not to secede from Iraq and become an independent nation-state. Unsurprisingly this has caused much consternation in both Baghdad and Ankara however analysts are nonetheless expecting a clear majority of Kurds to vote for independence. The problem facing the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been one of legitimacy as the Iraqi government have refused to legally permit a referendum from taking place, and therefore it would be unclear as to how the international community would react. This week the KRG and international Kurdish liberation movement received a boost from the man seeking to become Germany’s next Chancellor.
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.
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 →