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Independence for the Kurds is only a matter of time

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Independence for the Kurds is only a matter of time

PostAuthor: Anthea » Mon Apr 18, 2016 10:04 pm

Independence for the Kurds is only a matter of time

Kurds worry about losing 'passports, imports, exports and airports' if they break away from Iraq abruptly, but an amicable separation might suit both sides eventually

Ten years back few people even knew where the Kurdistan region was. Today, few people ask what Peshmerga means. Many more know the Kurds in Iraq and their Peshmerga – those who face death – have been valiant and determined in fighting Daesh and are reliable allies.

The Kurds often bemoan a history of lost opportunities and even betrayal. They know the West needs them, as there is little appetite to use western forces even against Daesh, which represents a threat to us all. They fear that once the danger is over, or seems to be over, western governments may once more leave them marooned at the mercy of their enemies.

As one who has visited the Kurdistan region over 20 times in 10 years, I have seen it change for the better, only to suffer major reverses in the last three years. In the 1990s the Kurds evicted Saddam but were dirt-poor and endured a bloody civil war. The liberation in 2003 of Iraq put them in a prime position to refashion Iraq so they were accepted as equals in a binational, federal and democratic state. They had been free for longer of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and used their greater experience and expertise – also honed over centuries of being stuck in the middle – to stabilise federal governments for which they provided the president, the foreign minister and other weighty figures.

The 2005 constitution gave them much autonomy which they used to build an energy sector from scratch and effect an historic rapprochement with Turkey. Many now think Turkey would acquiesce to their independence, despite its fears that Turkish Kurds would seek to secede.

Given that the Kurds are landlocked, it would seem better to remain an autonomous part of Iraq with its larger economy and access to the sea. But uncaring and sectarian governments in Baghdad have hollowed out federalism, which was always the condition of the Kurds remaining married to Iraq. Kurds fear that Baghdad is becoming a dictatorship and want no part of it.

Arab Iraq leaders often patronise and lecture the Kurds. The divisions were dramatically exposed when Iraq ceased to exist in all but name as Daesh forces sliced through a third of Iraq like a hot knife through butter. The Kurds overnight acquired 1,000 km of border with Daesh to just a few miles from Baghdad and no safe land route either.

Leaders in Baghdad seem unconcerned about whether Kurdistan stays, at least as equals. That they no longer allow constitutionally mandated fiscal transfers may indicate they hope the Kurds swing in the wind, sue for terms that would subordinate them, or exit. It is not what the Kurds signed up for in 2003 and it seems improbable that the chauvinist mentality in Baghdad that once drove genocide against the Kurds will change.

The US and Britain consistently promote a One Iraq policy. They are understandably wary that changing the status quo would weaken the fight against Daesh. But the One Iraq policy is running out of steam and credibility. Such positions are held in public while debate about their viability proceeds in private, and then an apparently sudden change is enunciated. Political scientist Arezu Yilmaz told the Kurdish Rudaw newspaper, for which I write a weekly column, about "over 100 diplomatic meetings in Erbil last year with [the] international community directly speaking to Kurdish political actors, which is unprecedented".

Iraqi and Kurdistani forces certainly need to work together. When I visited the frontline in Kirkuk, however, I was told there was no co-operation between them although it would help to reach and fight Daesh.

There is much talk now about taking Mosul. Some Kurdistani forces are 17 miles away while most Iraqi forces are over 100 miles away. But the crucial question is what mix of forces can demonstrate to Sunnis trapped in Mosul, some of whom have seen Daesh as less bad than Baghdad, that they will not suffer bloody revenge. Significant Sunni support for Daesh will not be eroded if it means the return of centralised and sectarian rule by Baghdad. This incubated Al Qaeda from which Daesh flowed and from which a son of Daesh could emerge. The One Iraq policy will not work in its own terms.

But precipitate moves to Kurdistani independence wouldn't work either. The nightmare scenario for Kurds is losing passports, imports, exports and airports. They know divorce has to be amicable and co-ordinated. Given that they can no longer stay together, Kurds and Iraqis would be better placed as neighbours to conclude security and economic agreements, which could be extended when Sunni areas overthrow Daesh.

Things are falling apart in Baghdad and that centre cannot hold all power if there is to be a genuine partnership against Daesh. The Kurds have been efficient allies but are warning with increasing urgency they cannot hold together themselves thanks to the huge economic shocks caused by Daesh and Baghdad, as well as their oil-addicted economy. There are no easy answers to the dilemmas facing the Kurds and Iraqis but the old answers are clearly of no great use.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/ind ... 90266.html
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Independence for the Kurds is only a matter of time

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