The Kurds Got Screwed


It looks like the situation has evolved to the point where we can’t even talk about Kurdistan. There is now no such place.

mjr, 2008

For the last 20 or so years, Iraq has allowed the Kurds to manage their own affairs in a Kurd-controlled region called “The Kurdistan Regional Government.” Iraq’s taking that away as punishment for the Kurds’ referendum on independence. When the Iraqi military drove the Kurds out of Kirkuk, taking advantage of a massive local military advantage, they appear to have developed a fondness for “the final argument of kings” Iraq’s military seems to have flipped from the bunch of guys who dropped their weapons and ran when ISIS came, to conquering lions of the desert. Perhaps it’s having all the fancy American gear, American artillery, and American air support. And, perhaps, some American special operations troops “advising” – with lethal advice.

BBC’s reporting on events was a bit bland [bbc] – the Iraq military has announced that it plans to hold the border crossings into/out of Turkey and Iran; effectively sealing the borders of the region. It appears that the Iraqis are getting good advice, or have some good strategists in charge. They went around Erbil and took advantage of their mobility and number of maneuver elements to take up commanding positions that remove all the Kurds’ options. The Kurds are politically out-maneuvered, too – Iran and Turkey both appear to be talking with the Iraqi government and are recognizing their control over the borders. It’s a power-play, and it’s a very well-executed power play.

Later, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told members of his AK Party in parliament that the “border gate has been handed over to the central government”.

An Iraqi border police captain also showed Reuters news agency photos of the Iraqi flag flying at the crossing, saying that it was “officially under the full control of the Iraqi government”.

However, an Iraqi military statement confirmed only that a delegation led by the army’s chief of staff, Lt Gen Othman al-Ghanmi, had visited Ibrahim al-Khalil and Fish Khabur to “determine the military and security requirements” for taking control.

It turns out nobody wanted an independent Kurdistan. We won’t know what the US wanted (or didn’t want) for a decade or so. Did the US actively encourage the Kurdish move like it encouraged the insurgency in Southern Iraq after Saddam retreated from Kuwait? Or did it tacitly encourage the Kurdish move like it encouraged Saddam’s ill-fated takeover of Kuwait?

This was not a sudden alignment:

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Turkish and Iraqi forces, who have been participating in joint military exercises since mid-September, moved towards the Turkish-side of Ibrahim al-Khalil crossing on Tuesday morning.

Oh, so they’d been planning it, probably since the Kurds did their referendum.

Once criticised as vacillating and weak, Mr Abadi – who became Prime Minister in August 2014 – is now lauded in Baghdad for leading the Iraqi state to two great successes in the past four months: one was the recapture of Mosul from Isis in July after a nine-month siege; the other was the retaking of Kirkuk in the space of a few hours on 16 October without any resistance from Kurdish Peshmerga. [counterpunch]

By the end of last week, Iraq had pushed the Kurds back to their 2012 borders, erasing everything they gained by serving as shock troops for the Americans and Iraqis in Kirkuk and Mosul, and in unspecified ways in Syria. Worse, they are now politically surrounded – all their neighbors have turned against them and are presenting a unified front – and they are militarily surrounded and their borders controlled.

The final word is Iraq’s: the Kurdish independence referendum is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Catalonia’s independence referendum is unconstitutional. Big national governments appear to be feeling their oats, is this a new resurgence of authoritarian confidence? After Crimea and Brexit, in the uncertainty of the Trump era, authoritarians don’t want to negotiate.

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I generally favor anything that reduces the power and privilege of nations, or that increases political self-determination for a region. The larger nations are, the more resources they have to build large militaries or oppress their people. On the other hand, I’m not thrilled about tribal/ethnic states, especially if they’re religiously-defined states. Religiously-contextualized nationalism scares me; it’s just a lead-in for genocide.

Comments

  1. felicis says

    And, of course the Kurds will forget our role the next time we want them to do something for us. I am sure there will not be any blowback on this…

  2. says

    “We won’t know what the US wanted (or didn’t want) for a decade or so. Did the US actively encourage the Kurdish move like it encouraged the insurgency in Southern Iraq after Saddam retreated from Kuwait? Or did it tacitly encourage the Kurdish move like it encouraged Saddam’s ill-fated takeover of Kuwait?”

    Given how hard we screwed them during the first gulf war, I think we know. Give them some weapons, have them fight people we both don’t like. Oh, you guys want your own country? Cool, interesting idea, we’ll talk about that later. Fucked up thing is many, if not most Kurds loved the US. At least up until 2010 – don’t know if how much that’s changed

  3. says

    The final word is Iraq’s: the Kurdish independence referendum is unconstitutional.
    Meanwhile, Catalonia’s independence referendum is unconstitutional.

    People deciding for themselves how they want to live is somehow unconstitutional. While waging wars and slaughtering others is constitutional. Just how did we get such bad constitutions everywhere…

    Speaking of which, in response to Catalonian referendum, today Latvian parliament passed a law which bans secessionist movements. As of today it is now illegal to make an association or a party which has a goal to undermine Latvian territorial integrity.

  4. says

    felicis@#1:
    And, of course the Kurds will forget our role the next time we want them to do something for us. I am sure there will not be any blowback on this…

    I hope the Kurds aren’t like Charlie Brown chasing after Lucy’s “come I’ll hold the football and you kick it” trick. But, so far they seem to be taking it. It sounds like they’re just happy to be alive and not eradicated and they’re going to hunker down and take it again.

  5. says

    Dunc@#2:
    The Kurds have been getting screwed like this for decades, if not centuries.

    They had a big break-out period of not-screwed when Saladin was running around crushing the crusaders.

  6. Siobhan says

    I’ve been squinting at Catalonian anarchist materials (eons ago I spoke Canadian French and a generic textbook central American Spanish, so Catalan is vaguely intelligible) and from what I can tell, Marcus, they share your reservations. Some are banking on Catalonia being less authoritarian than Spain, but it’s definitely not immediately obvious that’s a safe gamble. Ethno-religious nationalism seldom is. But Spain is that bad that some have concluded they’re willing to take the chance. Spain, of course, is eager to prove the anarchists correct. As we all know, jailing popular leaders and organizers is a surefire way to stoke loyalty and support.

  7. Siobhan says

    Oh, and the European Union is going to pull a United Nations and forget their own charter for the entire Catalan ordeal, because it would be inconvenient to the European powers if any of their secessionist movements thought they could succeed. It’s the same reason they’re trying to flog the UK for Brexit. +1 for so-called human rights.

  8. says

    Shiv@#6:
    Yeah, it’s one of those tough situations – authoritarians you know versus authoritarians you don’t. For sure, they’re not going to wind up with a non-authoritarian civil constitutional democracy. Those scandinavians need to get off their lutefisk and start exporting democracy! (not like they did back in the days of blood eagles, though…)

    Oh, and the European Union is going to pull a United Nations and forget their own charter for the entire Catalan ordeal

    The UN and EU have done a pretty good job of demonstrating that they’re on the side of the establishment – just a fig-leaf for authority to do what they have always done. Except it helps to have a UN resolution authorizing permanent war, or whatever.

    Damn it, Mao was right about power.

  9. says

    Ieva Skrebele:
    People deciding for themselves how they want to live is somehow unconstitutional. While waging wars and slaughtering others is constitutional. Just how did we get such bad constitutions everywhere…

    Good question. I’ve been meaning to do a post on that, but it’s such a depressing topic I usually wind up mewling in the corner instead of writing.

    As of today it is now illegal to make an association or a party which has a goal to undermine Latvian territorial integrity.

    Wow, well, you can see what the leadership’s concern is. It sure as hell isn’t the well-being of the citizens.

  10. jazzlet says

    About the only pleasure of Brexit is watching arrogant Tories get their comeuppance as the negotiations do not ggo the way they were sure they would, but it’s a masochistic pleasure.

    I hope the Kurds don’t get hit badly for trying, especially the Kurds in Turkey; Erdogan needs targets to try to unite the rest of the country against and the Kurds are all too convenient with their history.

  11. Siobhan says

    @10 jazzlet

    The Muslim hippies (aka Gulenists) are still generating a lot of steam for Erdodog, so maybe the Kurds will get off easier.

  12. springa73 says

    I wonder what will happen to the Kurdish parts of Syria which have been operating as de facto independent for a while now. Sadly I doubt they’ll be able to keep that independence in the long run. Every country in the area has a vested interest in making sure there are no independent Kurdish states anywhere in the region.

  13. jrkrideau says

    The Kurds Got Screwed

    Of course they did. Massoud Barzani must have been mad, or trusting in some vague mutterings of US support which is essentially the same thing.

    As I said in an earlier posting, Turkey, Iran, Syria and non-Kurdistan Iraq all have very significant Kurdish minorities. The last thing any of these countries want to do is encourage secessionist movements campaigning to join Greater Kurdistan.

    Probably the only thing that could get the four countries to willingly cooperate was the threat of a formally independent Kurdish state. Well, we have success.

    None of Iran, Syria or Turkey currently has any reason to trust the USA not to try for a regime change or an invasion. The the USA is the declared enemy of Iran and Syria. The Turkish government and Erdoğan, in particular, has a very strong suspicion that the coup attempt in 2016 had US backing. Iraq has no desire to give up sovereign territory with risk of losing some of its oil wells.

    The thought of an American-backed Kurdish state on their borders fomenting discord and rebellion is the stuff nightmares are made of.

    The Kurds fantasy of an independent Kurdistan was always just a pipe dream.

  14. says

    I don’t know what to say. Beyond a string of curses and a declaration to pay more attention to these issues in the future. (It’s so easy to get distracted by the Trumpery going on in the UStates.)

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