Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Charge of the Kurdish Brigade

I worry that the Iraqi Kurds with their futile independence referendum have damaged American efforts to pull Iraq away from Iran.

The Kurds voted to secede from Iraq. The vote total isn't in, but the result is not in doubt.

Not that this means that the Kurdish regions have declared independence. Kurdexit will take time to negotiate.

And no negotiations may work. An independent Kurdistan faces military resistance from the Turks and Iranians who have their own restive Kurds.

Iraq's Kurds need Iraqi cooperation to succeed by giving the landlocked Kurds an outlet to the sea in the face of Turksih and Iranian opposition.

But as America works to integrate Iraq back into the Arab world and alignment with America after President Obama walked away from Iraq in 2011 to allow Iran to gain influence, this vote hurts the effort.

One, without the Kurds to balance the minority of pro-Iranian Arab Shias, America's effort is weakened.

Two, Iraq may seek to get closer to Iran--notwithstanding recent distancing after the near-defeat of ISIL--to fight the Kurds:

A top ranking delegation from Iraq's armed forces headed to neighboring Iran on Wednesday "to coordinate military efforts", according to a statement from the Iraqi military.

Indeed, parliament called for taking Kirkuk from the Kurds:

The Iraqi parliament on Wednesday asked Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send troops to the Kurdish-held region of Kirkuk and take control of its oilfields.

So the pro-Iran elements in Iraq have been strengthened by opposition to the Kurdish vote.

And it could get worse. Will Sunni Arabs in Iraq be happy to be a smaller minority without the Sunni (but not Arab) Kurds to help balance the Shia Arab majority?

Will the defeat of ISIL in Iraq be a temporary lull before the Iraqi Sunni Arabs embrace another jihadi group the way Sunni Arabs embraced al Qaeda after the destruction of the Saddam regime before abandoning them in the 2006-2007 Awakening only to embrace ISIL to protect themselves against the increasingly Iran-friendly Iraqi government following America's withdrawal in 2011?

I hope continued American-led Western presence in Iraq and Saudi efforts to diplomatically engage Iraq will be enough to calm Sunni Arab worries and encourage anti-Iran Shia Arabs in Iraq.

I sympathize with the Iraqi Kurds. I do. They deserve a state. Eventually they should have one. With America's support. But trying to win independence right now is madness.

Hopefully the Kurdish leaders of Iraq calm things down and make it clear that they will use the referendum results to win more autonomy within Iraq rather than to formally sever ties. Let people get used to the idea of an eventual Kurdish state.

UPDATE: Iran blocks fuel trade with the Iraqi Kurdish region in response to the Iraqi Kurdish referendum.

UPDATE: That's interesting:

Iraq's military prepared Saturday to take control of the international borders of the northern Kurdish region. ...

Iraqi troops now in Turkey and Iran are expected to start enforcing control over the border crossings in and out of the Kurdish region, but are not expected to move into Kurdish territory.

So the Iranians and Turks are hosting Iraqi troops on their territory to control access to and from the Kurdish region. Does this tell you what you need to know about the prospects of formal independence for Iraqi Kurdistan?

How do the Iraqi Kurds think they are going to interact with the world when all their borders go through countries hostile to Kurdish independence?

I expect the Iraqi Kurds to back down from any declaration of independence. Autonomy is all the Kurds can hope for now.

One day, Iraq's government may be fine with Kurdish independence, which would make Turkish and Iranian hostility to an independent Kurdistan less important. But that day of peaceful division like the Czechs and Slovakians achieved is not yet in sight.

UPDATE: America is caught in the middle and we are willing to mediate.

The Kurdish vote was magnificent, but it is not statesmanship.