The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive
The Kurdish Independence Referendum Was a Political Miscalculation
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

The Iraqi government has banned international flights to the Kurdish capital Irbil from 6pm this Friday, isolating the Kurds in Iraq to a degree they have not experienced since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The isolation is political as well as geographical as traditional Kurdish allies, like the US, UK, France and Germany, have opposed the referendum on Kurdish independence while near neighbours in Turkey, Iran and Baghdad are moving to squeeze the Kurds into submission.

The referendum succeeded in showing that the Kurds, not just in Iraq but in Turkey, Iran and Syria, still yearn for their own state. Paradoxically, the outcome of the poll has demonstrated both the strength of their demand for self-determination and the weakness of their ability to obtain it. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is revealed as a minnow whose freedom of action – and even its survival – depends on playing off one foreign state against the other and keeping tolerable relations with all of them, even when they detested each other. In the past an American envoy would go out one door just as the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards came in the other.

The referendum has ended, perhaps only temporarily, these delicate balancing acts at which the Kurdish leadership was very skilled. In the last few weeks, the US has denounced the referendum in forthright terms, emboldening Iraq, Turkey and Iran to punish the Kurds for their undiplomatic enthusiasm to be an independent nation.

The poll was always a dangerous gamble but it is too early to say that it has entirely failed: minority communities and small nations must occasionally kick their big power allies in the teeth. Otherwise, they will become permanent proxies whose agreement with what their big power ally wants can be taken for granted. The skill for the smaller player is not to pay too high a price for going their own way. Iraq, Turkey and Iran have all made threatening statements over the last few days, some of them bombast, but they can hit the Kurds very hard if they want to.

The Kurds are in a fix and normally they would look to Washington to help them out, but under President Trump US foreign policy has become notoriously unpredictable. Worse from the Kurdish point of view, the US no longer needs the Iraqi Kurds as it did before the capture of Mosul from Isis in July. In any case, it was the Iraqi armed forces that won a great victory there, so for the first time in 14 years there is a powerful Iraqi army in the north of the country. We may not be on the verge of an Arab-Kurdish war, but the military balance of power is changing and Baghdad, not Irbil, is the gainer.

Anxious diplomats and excited journalists describe Iraq as “being on a collision course”, but the different parties will not necessarily collide. Muddling through is not only a British trait. But there is no doubt that the situation has become more dangerous, particularly in the disputed territories stretching across northern Iraq from Syria to Iran.

The referendum always had a risky ambivalence about it which helped ignite the present crisis. It all depended on what audience Kurdish President Masoud Barzani was addressing: when he spoke to Kurdish voters, it was a poll of historic significance when the Kurds would take a decisive step towards an independent state.

But addressing an international and regional audience, Barzani said he was proposing something much tamer, more like an opinion poll, in which the Iraqi Kurds were politely indicating a general preference for independence at some date in the future. Like many leaders who play the nationalist card, Barzani is finding that his rhetoric is being taken more seriously than his caveats. “Bye, Bye Iraq!” chanted crowds in Irbil on the night of the referendum.

Much of this was born of Barzani’s bid to outmanoeuvre his political rivals in Kurdistan by re-emerging as the standard bearer of Kurdish nationalism. He will benefit from his decision to defy the world and press ahead with the vote when it comes to the presidential and parliamentary elections in KRG on 1 November.

But the price of this could be high. It is not only Barzani who is facing an election in which national self-assertion is an issue in the coming months. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has a parliamentary election in 2018 and does not want to be accused of being insufficiently tough on the Kurds. Banning of international flights to Irbil is far less than many Iraqi MPs say they want.

By holding a referendum in the disputed territories, Barzani promoted this issue to the top of the Iraqi political agenda. It might have been in the interests of the Kurds to let it lie since the contending claims for land are deeply felt and irreconcilable. Optimists believe that Irbil and Baghdad could never go to war because they are both too dependent militarily on foreign powers. It is true that the Iraqi armed forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga alike could not have held off and defeated Isis without close air support from the US-led coalition. But by putting the future status of the KRG and the territories in play, Barzani has presented the Iraqi government, Turkey and Iran with a threat and an opportunity.

The four countries with Kurdish minorities fear that secessionism might spread, but a further problem is that they do not believe that an Iraqi Kurdish state would be truly independent, but would shift into the orbit of another power. The Iranians are paranoid about the possibility that such a state would be an American base threatening Iran. Politicians in Baghdad say that, if the Kurds are serious about self-determination, they would cling onto the oil fields of Kirkuk and be dependent on Turkey through which to export their crude.

ORDER IT NOW

Once the KRG dreamed of becoming a new Dubai with gleaming malls and hotels, but since 2014 it has looked more like Pompeii. The skyline is punctured by dozens of half completed tower blocks beside rusting cranes and abandoned machinery. The boom town atmosphere disappeared in 2014 when the price of oil went down, money stopped coming from Baghdad and Isis seized Mosul two hours’ drive away. The state is impoverished and salaries paid late, if at all. This will now all get a lot worse with airports and border crossings closed and 35,000 federal employees no longer being paid.

At all events, the political landscape in Iraq and Syria is changing: we are at the beginning of a new political phase in which the battle to defeat Isis is being replaced by a power struggle between Arabs and Kurds.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Iraq, Kurds, Turkey 
Hide 5 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
    []
  1. Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
    AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
    These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
    Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
    Sharing Comment via Twitter
    /pcockburn/the-kurdish-independence-referendum-was-a-political-miscalculation/#comment-2028173
    More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  2. Was the coincident Catalonian referendum also a ‘political miscalculation’? Granted there was less violence as a result of the Kurdish one, but still.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  3. anonymos says:

    The Western media spreads propaganda in support of the Western intelligence services, to back up their plot in the region to grab more resources training terrorist organization including ‘minorities’ where have planted in the regional states from WWI and WWII, to topple Governments though destabilization, chaos and use of their trained terrorists including traitor kurds to kill millions of Muslims to divide the regional states according to Oded Yinon for ‘greater Israel’ which is in the interest of criminal Britain, Israel and US.

    Patrick Cockburn, is one of these propagandists who has received many AWARDS for his services in support of Iraq, Syria partitions .We read the following in the print:

    [Foreign Reporter of the Year 2014
    Patrick Cockburn of The Independent won the foreign affairs prize for his coverage of the emergence of ISIS.
    The judges said: “Patrick Cockburn spotted the emergence of Isis much earlier than anybody else and wrote about it with a depth of understanding that was just in a league of its own. Nobody else was writing that stuff at that time, and the judges wondered whether the Government should considering pensioning off the whole of MI6 and hiring Patrick Cockburn instead.]

    Contrary to “Patrick Cockburn spotted the emergence of Isis much earlier than anybody else” without revelaing the NAMES OF Britain, US and Kurdish Clans were behind emerges of ISIS and have CLOSE COOPERATION WITH ISIS TO STEAL IRAQI AND SYRIAN LANDS that have oil to transfer it to the criminal Barezani clan. Kirkuk is a stolen land by the criminal Kurdish clan and cooperation of Western trained terrorists, ISIS.

    According to Eric Zuesse in “Trump’s Support for ISIS” writes:
    [However, U.S. major ‘news’media continue to allege that the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” or SDF, are throwing ISIS out of that area, instead of working with ISIS there to block Syria’s Government from retaking control of that major gas-producing facility — throwing out ISIS, instead of throwing out the Syrian Government.]
    The fact that the “Kurdish” SDF are transparently aligned with ISIS in Deir ez Zor should be of no surprise either, since the SDF are also aligned with the West and its allies, including of course Israel.

    https://www.globalresearch.ca/trumps-support-for-isis-angers-readers/5611498

    The referendum is illegal. The corrupt Barezani has extended his region without any objection from the criminal West because The Kurdish clans are their servants in the region. Erdugan is a liar since he has benefited a lot from the stolen Oil by the Kurdish clan Barezani in Kirkuk.

    Moon of Alabama writes:
    The Barzani’s are part of a major Kurdish tribe and a leading clan in the Kurdish region of Iraq. In 2005 Masoud Barzani, the son of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, was elected President of the Kurdish region in Iraq. His eight year term ended in 2013. The regional parliament extended his presidency by two years. But since 2015 he has ruled without any legal basis. He controls all military and civilian intelligence. Nechirvan Barzani, a nephew of Masoud Barzani, is prime minister of the Kurdish region.

    We want to know which autonomous region as ‘FEDERATION’ in the world has ITS OWN ARMY. The criminal West including US-Biritish-Israel has transferred billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to Kurdish clan to become much stronger militarily than the Iraqi government to weaken Iraq.

    U.S. oil interests helped to build the Barzani’s power. The Kurds pumped and sold oil without the consent of Baghdad. Oil is exported through Turkish pipelines and sold mostly to Israel. The family of the Turkish president Erdogan is intimately involved in the business. But despite billions of income from (illegal) oil sales the Kurdish region is heavily indebted. Corruption rules in Kurdistan and the regional government had to rob local banks to find fresh money. That still wasn’t enough to pay salaries. The Barzani family mafia has robbed the region blind. To keep going, the local government needs to annex more riches and widen its business base.

    The Kurds in Syria are currently led by the PKK/YPG, a political cult and militia which follows Abdullah Öcalan‘s crude philosophies. Politically they are opposed to Barzani but they have similar interests and attitudes. Though only 8% of the population, they have now occupied some 20% of Syria’s land and control 40% of its oil reserves. Continued U.S. support for Syrian Kurds and the example in Iraqi could incited them to split from Syria. Damascus would never agree to that.

    https://www.globalresearch.ca/by-the-grace-of-israel-the-barzani-clan-and-kurdish-independence/5611416

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  4. There is absolutely no need to feel sorry for the Kurds. They have always, without exception, acted as proxies and hirelings, sucking up to whichever power might give them a moment’s benefit. They acted as Ottoman mercenaries to help massacre the Armenians. Then they acted as Saddam Hussein’s proxies when it seemed he was winning the war against Iran. As soon as Iran turned the tables, by circa 1983, those same Kurds changed sides and became Iranian allies against Iraq. When the terrorist invasion of Syria began they largely sat it out to see who would win, only sporadically supporting the government when it, as in Aleppo, was obviously on the ascendant. Now that they have some Amerikastani backing in the so called SDF they have turned against the Syrian state in East Syria. Meanwhile, in Iraq, for all their posturing against ISIS, in 2014 they acted as its de facto allies by seizing Kirkuk from the Iraqi State when ISIS took Mosul. Since they’re such rabid opportunists serving only their own interests, and that only for the shortest of short terms, who in their right mind would ever trust them on anything? No wonder they never will get their own state; they have never given any indication that they deserve it.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
  5. anonymos says:

    Cooperation between the traitor Kurds – US/Israel pawns- and US trained terrorists – ISIS, to steal Syrian lands.

    As Sarah Abed writes:

    [The Kurdish link to Daesh (ISIS) is one of importance and worthy of conversation. Kurdish alliances with armed terrorist groups in Syria – particularly Daesh – are very telling signs as to what extremes separatist Kurdish militias such as the YPG and PKK will go in order to bring their ideological manifestation of an independent, autonomous Kurdistan into existence within the borders of the sovereign country of Syria. These collaborations are also a clear indication that the US is willing to make unorthodox alliances if it translates to continuous instability and division in the region.

    The SDF is mostly comprised of the Kurdish YPG militia, which unanimously declared the “federalization” of what they call “Rojava,” or “Western Kurdistan,” in March 2016. The leaders of the SDF announced that they’ll try to annex the majority-Arab city of Raqqa if they manage to liberate it. In June of 2017, the Kurds were actively involved in ethnically cleansing Arabs from Raqqa en masse in order to pave the way for the city’s annexation to their unilaterally declared “Federation” after its forthcoming capture.]

    https://www.globalresearch.ca/syria-kurdish-sdf-and-isis-daesh-an-unholy-alliance-consecrated-by-the-u-s/5611970

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter Display All Comments
Current Commenter says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Patrick Cockburn Comments via RSS
Personal Classics
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
"All Hell is Breaking Loose with Muqtada" Warlord: the Rise of Muqtada al-Sadr