By LTC Sargis Sangari and Steven Weingartner
UPDATES TO FOLLOW IN THIS FLUID SITUATION.
Latest: Fighting has broken out between the Kurdish Peshmerga & Iraqi Government forces. They are exchanging artillery and rocket(s) against each others’ positions.[fc id=’2′ type=’slide’ placement=’right’ button_color=’#4488ee’ font_color=’white’]Request Interviews with Sargis Sangari Here[/fc]
Jalal Talabani’s (former president of Iraq) family members have an agreement with the Minister of the Interior to give up the locations of government forces in accordance to what the Iraqi government had requested. However, Barzani’s military forces are fighting.
A possible agreement has been reached, however, NEC-SE predicts it will be broken imminently by Barzani.
As of this writing the Iraqi Army stands poised to move against Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk Province if the Sunni Muslim Kurds fail to comply with an ultimatum, issued three days ago and set to expire today, by the Government of Iraq (GOI). As follows:
- Peshmerga units in Kirkuk must evacuate the Iraqi Army camp designated as K1.
- Peshmerga units and associated Kurdish civilians must evacuate the Kirkuk airport. Note in this regard that the Kirkuk airport tower is an internationally recognized beacon for air traffic control in northern Iraq.
- The Sunni Muslim Kurds must relinquish control of the Kirkuk oilfields and oil processing facilities to the Iraqi government.
- The Kurdish governor of Kirkuk must step down for a replacement confirmed by the GOI.
- All Peshmerga units must withdraw to June 9, 2014 boundary lines between Iraq and Kirkuk Province that existed prior to ISIS operations in the region.
The KRG has begun signaling its intention to accede to these demands, either wholly or in part.
Prior to the ISIS expansion in Iraq and prior to June 9, 2014, the Sunni Muslim Kurds had no political, economic, and military leverage which would allow them to permanently control the oil-rich areas of Assyria Nineveh Plain (ANP) and Kirkuk, which they needed for the economic survival of a future Kurdistan. The ISIS attacks causing the genocide, and mass migration of the Assyrian Christians and Yazidis in the Nineveh Province and ISIS operations against Kirkuk allowed the KRG to move into these purged areas as part of the Coalition Supported Clearing operations where they became the political, demographic, economic, and military dominant force giving them the leverage they needed to control vast oil fields in a larger region for their needs.
The Sunni Muslim Kurds have made no secret of their intent to incorporate Kirkuk province and ANP into a sovereign Kurdish state. These areas and their oil are needed for a future “Kurdistan.” By the same token, the Baghdad government has maintained that Kirkuk belongs to Iraq and would under no circumstances allow its secession, and the Assyrian Christians have asked for ANP to be a state/region similar to the KRG IAW the Iraqi constitution to ensure the Assyrian Christians (root of Christianity) are not eradicated from the landscape of the Middle East.
And there the matter has lain, simmering with varying degrees of intensity (and occasional violence) in the 26 years that have elapsed since the Gulf War. But in recent years the destabilizing effects of the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS, among other factors, have steadily diminished Baghdad’s authority over the north, presenting the Kurds with an opportunity they evidently could not let pass.
Accordingly, on 25 SEP 17, the Kurds brought matters to a head by voting “overwhelmingly” for independence. Subsequently, KRG president Masoud Barzani stated that the referendum’s results were non-binding. Baghdad, evidently unconvinced by what they saw as a transparent attempt to buy time for the Kurds to tighten their hold on Kirkuk, and ANP responded with the aforementioned demands.
NEC-SE predicted just over a year ago that Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) would come to blows over ownership of Kirkuk. It now appears that our prediction have come true.
Barzani must have known, or at least have considered possibility, that the referendum’s passage would provoke a military crackdown from Baghdad. And he surely knows that the Peshmerga are no match for the Iraqi Army, lacking both the manpower and material resources needed to offer credible resistance to an invasion by government forces without other state actors supporting the Peshmerga tactical operations.
Knowing that this is the case, Barzani’s decision to hold the referendum regardless of the aforementioned consequences is quite incomprehensible.
Barzani, after all, didn’t need a referendum to create a Kurdish state, a “Kurdistan,” in northern Iraq. “Kurdistan” has existed, in de facto form, as the Kurdish Regional Government, since 1991. What’s more, since 1991, the KRG has conducted its political and economic affairs pretty much as it pleases, without substantive interference from Baghdad and with the support, by turns tacit and active, of the international community.
Notably in this regard, the KRG has controlled some of the Kirkuk oilfields and processing facilities more or less since 1991 and has profited mightily from the sale of oil on the international market especially during ISIS operations. Very few of these revenues have found their way to Baghdad even though Kirkuk Province is still, technically, part of Iraq and all natural resources are to belong to Baghdad IAW the Iraqi constitution and international norms.
What’s worse for Barzani is that every time international leadership came to Baghdad they also visited KRG. The same leaders today collectively warned against the referendum and issued strong statements against the steps taken by Barzani.
The KRG has gotten wealthy from Kirkuk oil, and that wealth has enabled it to influence the course Middle East affairs in its favor. This has been accomplished with the connivance of Turkey, Iran, and Syria, which have all benefited from their support of the KRG, albeit each in their own way.
Turkey, especially, has been a good “friend” to the KRG – so much so that it is no exaggeration to say that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become a sort of father figure to Barzani. Nor have Turkey’s problems with the PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, or Kurdish Workers’ Party) in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast been an obstacle to the development of this friendship – as demonstrated by the open borders relationship between the KRG and Turkey, and the provision, by the KRG, of Kirkuk oil to Turkey at very attractive prices.
Whereas Turkey was perfectly accepting of an informal Kurdish state, it views with considerable displeasure the establishment of a sovereign Kurdistan on its borders. Ankara believes, with justification, that this state by its very existence will further stoke separatist sentiments among its own large and always restive Kurdish minority.
As for Iraq: Baghdad regards the referendum as nothing less than an act of secession from the Iraqi state. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, Baghdad retaliated with, it must be said, considerable restraint by dismissing all KRG diplomats, suspending the payment of salaries to the Kurdish leaders in Iraq, signing arrest warrants for the Kurdish election officials who held the illegal referendum as well as some of the monies assigned to the KRG by the provisions of the Iraqi constitution. Baghdad also stopped all direct international flights into Iraqi North from around the globe.
Baghdad’s actions were to be interpreted as a political shot across Barzani’s bow, a gesture warning the KRG to back away from secession. So far, Barzani has ignored the message. With the issuance of Baghdad’s 5-point ultimatum and the mobilization of Iraqi Army forces on the KRG’s border, the next shots may be for real if Barzani does not cave.
Put in colloquial (American) terms: Barzani had a good thing going, but ruined it all literally overnight with the referendum for independence.
An Iraqi civil war may be looming – the KRG and Baghdad are on a collision course set by Barzani. But conflict can be avoided if, and only if, Barzani takes action to nullify the results of the voting and renounce the KRG’s separatist agenda. Will he do this?
That remains to be seen. Only one thing is certain in all this: a civil war in Iraq will be a terrible tragedy for all involved.
Brazani has placed his people in a lose-lose position. How will he explain to the people of Iraq that he brought them to a point where they fought not against their regional neighbors but fought within their own nation? How is he going to justify that he turned against the same nation that fed him and supported him and his family, the same nation that raised him and allowed him to prosper personally to the tune of billions USD. How does he want the people of his nation to trust him now and into the future and how does he want his neighbors to trust him going forward given his actions against Iraq and its constitution?
Let’s say regardless of all this, at the end Barzani wins and after thousands dead, Barzani gets to stamp his name into history by establishing a Kurdistan. He has destroyed his relationship with all the citizens of Iraq and his neighbor to include losing control of his and his neighbor’s airspace. Even the regional nation states that you may believe are backing you would need to use these airspaces to support your landlocked nation in the future to their own detriment.
So we must ask if this is what Barzani was looking for and if this was his mission. And we must further ask, with all the key advisers at his disposal to include major national contributors, how is it possible that he did not see this coming?
Available Guests – Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari