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Compromise Isn't Possible Once Nationalist Referendums Have Been Held
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Two cities – Kirkuk and Raqqa – fall in two days and the political landscape of the Middle East is transformed. One of these events, the capture of Raqqa, the last urban stronghold of Isis, by the Syrian Kurds backed by US airpower, had been expected, but was no less important for that. The “caliphate” declared three years ago has been destroyed, though Isis will persist as a guerrilla and terrorist movement.

The capture of Kirkuk, the oil city which Kurds and Arabs have battled to control for 50 years, came last Monday and was completely unexpected. It not only changed the politics of Iraq, but of the region as a whole. Put briefly, the central government of Iraq is back in business as a power to a degree not seen since 1991 when Saddam Hussein was calamitously defeated by the US and its allies after he invaded Kuwait.

Kurdish dreams of establishing an independent state drawing on the oil wealth of Kirkuk have been extinguished, probably forever. The semi-independent Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which might have been a beacon to the 25 million Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria, will see its powers squeezed by the government in Baghdad. Its leaders have a lot to answer for: their divisions, miscalculations and greed have capsized the heroic Kurdish struggle for self-determination stretching back over a century.

The final debacle for the Iraqi Kurdish leaders was farcical and tragic in equal measure: Isis held Mosul for nine months and Raqqa for four months; the Syrian Kurdish YPC held Kobani for four months against ferocious Isis assault; but the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga held Kirkuk, the city they claimed was central to their future, for just four hours when the Iraqi security forces occupied it on 16 October in the face of negligible resistance.

How this happened is a shameful story of arrogance and poor judgement on the part of all the KRG leaders. It is doubtful if they have learned anything useful from the disaster since they are today denouncing each other as traitors and claiming to be the victims of a deep-laid Iranian plot to stab them in the back or on an inexplicable American failure to rescue them in their hour of need.

The Iraqi Kurdish leaders have always been good at publicising their cause, but their weakness is that they themselves believe rather more of their own propaganda than is good for them. In future, the story of how President Masoud Barzani tried to secure his political fortunes by holding a referendum on Kurdish independence – thereby provoking a wave of Kurdish nationalism he could not control – will be the subject of PhDs on political ineptitude. Many political leaders suffer defeat because they fall victim to superior forces or unforeseen circumstances, but in the Iraqi Kurdish case, the result of their actions was predictable and avoidable.

Most of the story of what happened in northern Iraq last week is now well known, though there remains one important mystery. Masoud Barzani, who should have stood down as KRG president two years ago at the end of his term, stayed on and stopped the Kurdish parliament meeting. To re-establish his position as a Kurdish national leader and to wrong foot the opposition Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party (PUK), he announced a referendum on Kurdish independence to be held on 25 September.

The plan was always a risky gamble: a small nation like the Kurds depends on keeping good relations with larger ones. In this case, the referendum alienated all its allies, including the US, Turkey and Iran. The central government in Baghdad faced a threat and an opportunity at the same time: by holding the referendum in territory disputed between Kurds and Arabs, Barzani was staking permanent claim to a large chunk of Iraq. The government in Baghdad, having just won its largest military victory ever by retaking Mosul, was not going to buckle and accept this, nor did it have any need to do so because the KRG had just spurned American and Turkish protection by holding the referendum. America promised an attractive compromise deal two days before the poll, but by then nationalist intoxication had reached a peak and Barzani felt he had no choice but to reject the US initiative.

Barzani’s KDP movement is now trying to blame the final disaster on the PUK, saying that it reached a treacherous side deal with Baghdad orchestrated by Iran. But this misses the point: the KDP could already see that it had no military option and could not fight successfully the reinvigorated Iraqi armed forces. In the event, neither the KDP nor the PUK put up significant resistance to the Iraqi army, the Peshmerga of both the Kurdish parties disappearing from the frontline at equal speed.

There are lessons here not just for the Kurds, but for nationalist movements everywhere in the world, including Europe. They will probably not be learned because a self-destructive aspect of nationalism is the belief by nationalists in each country that their own experiences and sense of victimhood are unique and do not have analogies anywhere else. Nationalists in former imperial countries like England and France are loath to see parallels between their own demand for self-determination with that of what used to be referred to as “Third World” countries.

The analogies are there all the same: Kurdish mental attitudes that led them to try to secede from Iraq are not so wholly different to those of the British trying to leave the EU. It should be hurriedly said that there is nothing wrong and everything right about any national community opting for self-determination and liberty. But, justifiable though such an aim may be, national independence comes accompanied by an over-strong sense of righteousness and superiority that blurs political realism: the British and Kurdish governments both started a major political adventure with a divided country behind them while their action angered and united their neighbours.


A further weakness of nationalist movements seeking independence from larger groupings is that that they promise far more than they can deliver. Self-determination is presented as a panacea which will cure all social and economic ills, though how this might happen is seldom spelled out. Again, Kurdish leaders before the referendum and Brexiteers before the vote in 2016 could paint their critics as unpatriotic. Even more damaging, compromise becomes impossible even when the alternative is to disappear over a cliff edge.

Britain is an immeasurably greater power than Kurdistan was ever likely to be, but the same miscalculation about the balance of power between them and their neighbours comes into play in both cases. It is telling how many conflicts and wars in European history have been started by those who were never likely to win them and had everything to lose from failing to do so. Appeals to national solidarity in pursuit of a common cause build up their own momentum and are difficult to put into reverse, making ultimate disaster inevitable.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Iraq, Kurds 
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  1. I find your linking of recent events surrounding Iraq and Kurdistan with Brexit a bit of a stretch. And your assessment of nationalist separatist actions might come out quite differently if you compared such actions with the nationalist separatist movements that led to India’s independence, to the U.S. declaration of independence, to the secession of Kosovo, to East Timor, to Algeria, to the breakup of the former Soviet Union, to Balkan independence from the Ottoman Empire and other successful secessionist efforts. The unravelling that appears to be happening in Spain with Catalonia involves a vastly different framework and is following a different but equally unpredicatable course.

    • Agree: Grandpa Charlie
    • Replies: @diogenes lives
  2. Catalonia and the brutal oppression of “Democratic” Rajoy and Spain might have been a better example.

  3. hyperbola says:

    The president of the EU Commission (Juncker) was forced to resign as Prime Minister of Luxembourg for lying to his Parliament about NATO false flag terrorist crimes against European countries.

    Luxembourg Government Forced To Resign Over GLADIO False Flag Attack Linked Scandal

    The president of the EU Council (Tusk) came to power in Poland via a highly suspicious “decapitation” of the political, military, justice, …. leaders of Poland.

    Smolensk Crash Was a Coup d’Etat

    Did Global Elite Kill Polish President Kaczynski?


    Tusk was Poland’s prime minister when the crash happened, and he was succeeded by his protégé, Ewa Kopacz. The Tusk government helped organize the coup in Ukraine in 2014, trained right-wing, paramilitary Ukrainian militias and launched the massive military campaign against Russia. As his “reward” for killing Polish independence and making them lackeys of EU globalists and the international banking cartels, Tusk was made president of the EU Council – despite Polish denunciation of his corruption.

    Both Juncker and Tusk are good examples of the degree of corruption and abuse at the heart of the EU. The sooner the current semi-feudal model of the EU is torn down the better for Europeans.

    • Replies: @Grandpa Charlie
  4. I don’t think there was ever a case for an independent Kurdistan carved out of Iraq without first seeking acceptance and support from Iraq proper.

    A search of Kurdish history reveals that the UN once attempted to provide territory to the Kurds. It fell apart because the kurds s imply could not agree on how to govern themselves. And what appears to be the current discourse among the Kurds sounds a repeat of that failed effort.

    I don’t think there are many examples that reflect what the Kurd were attempting to do. I think I agree with others that the comparison are hard to reconcile. Brexit is a sovereign state changing its economic relations with other sovereign states. Even examples by the commenters don’t work in my view. The independence struggles cited are either native populations retaking control of their own territories away from colonial powers or, a in the case of the US, a breakaway colonial peoples from their original state authority.

    • Replies: @DFH
  5. Kick ’em if they’re down analysis.

  6. The day of globalism and the One World/New World Order is rapidly drawing to a close as the prison house of nations known as the European Union/Fourth Reich crumbles. The writer is one of legions of brain washed, paid off apologists/propagandists for the global elite. In the next few years globalism is finished and will go the way of Nazism, Fascism,Marxism, Imperialism, etc. Whether it goes peacefully or is destroyed by revolution and war and how quickly are all that remain to be determined. Stay tuned.

  7. @simplyamazed

    The One World/New World Order of, by and for the globalist elite 0.001% is slowly dying. What will replace it is the interesting question that remains still to be determined.

  8. @hyperbola


    You are excellent when you compile links to draw a true picture of what must be behind related events. Very impressive.

    Also, although it’s far removed from myself here in USA, I agree with your conclusion about the EU:

    “The sooner the current semi-feudal model of the EU is torn down the better for Europeans.” — hyperbola

    • Replies: @hyperbola
  9. DFH says:

    A search of Kurdish history reveals that the UN once attempted to provide territory to the Kurds. It fell apart because the kurds s imply could not agree on how to govern themselves. And what appears to be the current discourse among the Kurds sounds a repeat of that failed effort.

    In contrast with the pacific political history of the Arabs/Iraqis?

  10. hyperbola says:
    @Grandpa Charlie

    The information about what is really going on behind the scenes is almost always available. That the “related” events are seldom linked together by “our” media is primarily because of censorship, but also because most people seldom get out of the propaganda bubble of their own country. Helps to have lived in several countries and to speak several languages to get real perspectives.

    What makes you think I am far removed? I am just better informed (and reading regularly in three different languages). Keep in mind that many of the semi-feudal trends in Europe are no different than what is occuring in the US (and often dictated/propagandized in both locations by the same sects).

    The Israel Lobby in Germany | Freemasonry – Scribd
    The ProSieben / Sat1 Group, which combines the German TV station ProSieben, Sat.1, Kabel eins, N24, 9Live and which are especially designed for women transmitter Sixx under one roof, is in possession of the Jew Haim Saban. The Axel Springer Foundation, which was part of the Axel Springer AG conducted from 1981 to 2010 by the Jew Ernst Cramer. After Cramer’s death…..

    Leaked emails show donors drive Hillary Clinton’s pro-Israel positions
    …. Last year, Hillary Clinton wrote a letter to billionaire media mogul Haim Saban on her campaign stationery vowing “to make countering BDS a priority” if she wins the presidency. Saban has donated at least $7 million to getting Clinton elected president and openly confesses that his number one priority is influencing US policy in Israel’s favor…..

    • Replies: @Grandpa Charlie
  11. Talha says:

    This is probably the best outcome as a whole. If the idea of “Kurdistan” is permanently off the board, the various nations can now start serious (and long overdue) talks about how to better accommodate and work with their Kurdish minorities and make them feel like those other countries are their homes as well. Perhaps a tripartite agreement can be reached as far as ease of movement between Iran, Iraq and Turkey for their Kurdish populations so that they at least feel these borders are there in legal terms but not so restrictive on the ground. They will likely have to demilitarize their current militias as well.


    • Replies: @anonymous
  12. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    [how to better accommodate and work with their Kurdish minorities and make them feel like those other countries are their homes as well.]

    Please study the case before commenting. The kurds have the highest autonomy in the history of mankind. The ‘Kurdistan’ is a zionist jews project to legitimize their own presence in occupied Palestine. The criminal ziofascists are trying to make this criminal act as part of American agenda. The ziofascist Bernard Henri Levy is spreading a lie, that ‘Kurdistan Independence’ is part of the peace process and stabilization of the Middle East, the same middle east that these murderers have made destabilized to implement their plot. WE NEVER ALLOW A SECOND ISRAEL IN OUR REGION.

    When a criminal zionist jew such as Bernard henri levy is backing ‘kurdistan’, an embedded MI6 ‘journalist’ pushing for it, then you should be careful and find out about the reasons behind this treason.

    • Replies: @Talha
    , @Grandpa Charlie
  13. Talha says:

    The kurds have the highest autonomy in the history of mankind.

    Well I would certainly agree that they did have a great degree of autonomy historically, especially as part of the Ottoman Empire. That went fairly downhill after ethno-nationalism was introduced into those areas. They should be treated as equal citizens along with their majority populations, whether Arab, Turk, Persian, etc.

    That Israel is up to its neck in the “Kurdistan” project in order to weaken its rivals is well-documented. The Kurdish leadership goofed badly, very badly by aligning with them and now it looks like things are going to work out so that the Kurds will have to be content without a nation of their own. Which is fine, no big deal as long as they get treated well by the nations they are part of.

    I was never a fan of “Kurdistan”, it’ll just turn out to be another despotic and corrupt Muslim ethno-nationalist nation state. We need another one of those like we need cancer.


  14. @diogenes lives

    there is one way to save the fourth reich. fiscal union, welfare from germany to the PIIGS.
    if the EU really is a plot by ODESSA to take over europe this will happen. but the germans won’t lift a finger until they absolutely have to.

  15. “Compromise Isn’t Possible Once Nationalist Referendums Have Been Held”

    So they should be held more often.

  16. @hyperbola

    “What makes you think I am far removed? I am just better informed (and reading regularly in three different languages).” — hyperbola

    When I said “far removed,” I should have specified that I meant that I myself was far removed from Europe so that I could hardly be well-informed on issues relating to EU — which was the topic last time, especially Poland. I am just very grateful for your posts that fill in where USA and UK media are so unhelpful, even misleading.

    Fortunately, public discourse here in USA is opening up some respecting influence of Neocon Jews highly placed in our government and in MSM-controlling part of the Deep State, especially thanks to Phil Giraldi. So I did know about Hillary and the Democratic Party, although not specifically about Haim Saban. Now I’ve read up on his interests, exposing how ignorant I am even of media ownership issues here in USA. It’s complicated.

    Anyway, thanks for your posts.

  17. @anonymous

    What is”this treason” referred to by anonymous? According to the linked Tablet article, the treason most likely might be that USA did not go all the way in support of the Kurdistan project, but Tillerson did make it clear that USA could not or did not intend that kind of 100% commitment. And then the article would like to make it appear shameful for USA to offer a ton of cash along with the request for Barzani to back off in his setting up the referendum!

    Sometimes you get the impression that USA will always be the goat in the ME … like the Kurds always said that USA’s help would only be accepted on condition of USA signing on to the independent Kurdistan project? Where is the statement ever from USA that USA is committed to the independent nation of Kurdistan? Look at how much trouble we have gotten into by committing to the independent state of Israel, way back 60 years ago.

    No wonder many Americans think that the best solution for the ME would be to nuke the whole area, from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, as the saying goes. Unfair? Especially when USA has brought so much suffering on peoples there? Yes, but American citizenry never actually clamored for any of these wars. It’s likely that most Americans no longer believe the official 9-11 story anyway.

    • Replies: @Grandpa Charlie
  18. @Grandpa Charlie

    BTW: About Bernard Henri Levy, even though I am a great admirer of French culture, all I can say is that I guess I am impressed all to hell and gone about such a grand “public intellectual” — bien sure, bien sure.

    • Replies: @anonymous
  19. anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Grandpa Charlie

    I have no interest in a ziofascist like Bernard Henri Levy. The link simply shows the treason of the ‘kurds’ how have close relations with a zionist figure trying to destabilize the relation to topple governments where the Kurds have 100% cooperation with this project working with US/ Israel, and Saudi Arabia to implement Oded Yinon.
    Why a ziofascist- Bernard Henri Levy – mobilizes western governments to topple governments in the middle east and north Africa? This is for the ‘greater Israel’ project where should be defeated at any cost.
    BHL was involved in partition of South Sudan and destructive wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria. what had happened there? Every woman has been raped repeatedly and many have escaped South Sudan as REFUGEE. Who is BHL, anyway that dares to shape the map of the middle east for the interest of the an apartheid entity? The erection of Israel was a catastrophic PROJECT implemented by terrorist organizations such as Irgun and supported by the criminal west. Land of Palestinians was stolen by Rothschilds’ money and delivered by Balfour declaration to zionists in 1924, who have NO RELATIONS WITH THE LAND OF PALESTINE. They were colonists from Europe.
    Now, Israel is trying to erect a SECOND ISRAEL IN THE REGION using the traitor kurds, to erect kurdistan, where they take this wish into their graves. Oded Yinon is dead, so its supporters.

  20. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The analogies are there all the same: Kurdish mental attitudes that led them to try to secede from Iraq are not so wholly different to those of the British trying to leave the EU.

    Unfortunately named Cockburn is clearly missing an important difference here. The Brits want their country and sovereignty back before it gets completely usurped by the EU – they’re not carving it out from others. Surely, there’s a material difference between offensive and defensive nationalism as there exists between offensive and defensive warring. There’s no equivalence and Cockburn knows it.

  21. Svigor says:

    Wait a sec…my comments were deleted? We know that was Cockburn, and not Unz.

    Yep…dishonest elderly leftism confirmed!

  22. Svigor says:

    Either that, or the previous server was a dishonest old lefty (redundancy alert); that’s always a possiblity.

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