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