September 27, 2017
Asia Times

Unravelling the Riddle of the Kurds' Iraqi Pipedream

by Pepe Escobar

Wily clannish capo Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), has announced that "Yes" won Monday's non-binding independence referendum. Now that index fingers in indelible indigo ink are out of the way, the real battle between the KRG and Baghdad begins. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Iraqi Supreme Court have denounced the referendum as "unconstitutional."

Kurds comprise roughly 22% of an Iraqi population of 32 million. They are mostly Sunni and speak an Indo-European language close to Farsi. Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed significant autonomy since Daddy Bush installed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq, post-Desert Storm, in 1991. They were instrumental in helping Shock and Awe in 2003, and the Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurdistan's standing force) are de facto US allies, fighting Islamic State -- with US air cover -- after the collapse of the Iraqi Army and the phony Caliphate's conquest of Mosul in 2014. Their dreams of secession from Iraq have been paramount for almost three decades.

Yet the KRG is far from a bed of mountain flowers. Inside it, the crucial vector is the rivalry between Erbil and Sulaimaniya. Erbil, largely tribal, is run by the Barzani clan. Sulaimaniya, way more cultured, is run by the Talibani clan, and its Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party has close ties with Iran. Masoud Barzani is viewed in Sulaimaniya as no more than a crude opportunist. . . .

So it's not bye-bye Sykes-Picot. Far from it -- even though Iraq will continue to be split. Baghdad is actually getting stronger -- as part of the "4+1" (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah) that for all practical purposes has won the war in Syria. None of these actors -- or Turkey, which is involved in the Astana negotiations -- wants partition of either Syria or Iraq.

Moreover, Russia is also back as Iraq's partner on the military front, selling it a "large batch" of T-90 tanks for US$1 billion -- something that implies a stronger, anti-partition Iraqi Army.

That good ol' project of balkanizing "Syraq," via ISIS, might have flown out of the window just to reappear by the door in the guise of Kurdish separatism. Tough luck. Not only is the entire non-Kurdish Arab street against it, but so are the powers that be in Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran, Ankara, and Moscow. Expect major turbulence ahead.


Thierry Meyssan, "Kurdistan: what the referendum is hiding,", September 26, 2017

back button