One of our forecasts have come true: Kurds are late with their referendum – they should have held it in summer of 2014 when Iraq’s army fled ISIS (terrorist group banned in Russia- EADaily’s note) leaving Sinjar, Mahmur, Kirkuk and other Kurd-populated areas outside the Kurdish Autonomy. Peshmerga had to take them under protection. Our second forecast has not come true (see First outcomes of Kurdish Referendum: Russia wins): Baghdad launched punitive operation. Betrayal “comes suddenly”.
Peshmerga units have two commands – Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by President Masoud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Pavel Talabani, the son of the late Jalal Talabani. 80% of Peshmerga units in Kirkuk belonged to them. On October 16, they left the city without striking a blow. According to the recent reports, they left many other “disputable areas” from Sinjar (Kurdish Shangal) in the north up to Jalula (Jalavla) in the south.
It would be naïve speaking of “betrayal” by PUK only. It appears that Pavel Talabani’s order to withdraw troops was a good opportunity for Masoud Barzani to make a similar order.
Someone has noticed several Abrams tanks somewhere. Volunteers from Iran (about half of them were Shahabists) covered by American tanks attacked positions of Washington’s ally in the “international anti-terrorist coalition.”
The only credible information is that most of the noticed armory were corroded armored vehicles HMMWV “swelled and molded” by local craftsmen. Anywhere, they proved useful. Let's further make fun of masterpieces of Ukrainian defense industry…
No organization disintegrates as quickly and fundamentally as the army implementing “administrative and household” functions. Some parallels with Ukraine can be brought here as well. These processes are observed on both sides of the frontline: control over customs, many internal check-points, “business protection” in the responsibility zone, distribution of budgets and profitable positions. During several years of peace with a break for the war against ISIS* (let’s be fair, they did not make any crucial contribution to common victory), commanders and privates of Peshmerga have flourished and created their small, comfortable worlds.
What is happening now was predicted by The Gorran Movement (Movement for Change) that separated from PUK and admitted many former members of KDP. The Gorran Movement refused to participate in the independence referendum to the utmost, demanding parliamentary elections first (activity of the regional parliament was suspended in October 2015, as Masoud Barzani refused to leave after his presidential term ‘due to ISIS threat’). The Gorran Movement demanded reforming Kurdistan into parliamentary republic, first, reducing the number of officials, stopping clannish policy, creating a state with self-sufficient economy and truly independent from Baghdad.
On October 17 in the morning, The Gorran Movement parliamentarian Masoud Haider informed about some details he learnt about the agreement signed between PUK leader Pavel Talabani and Hashd al-Shaabi leader Hadi Ameri. Some of the agreement provisions suggested distribution of the districts of Kirkuk disputable province between PUK and Baghdad (15 and 25 respectively), payment of salaries by Baghdad to government officials of Kurdistan’s territories controlled by PUK and to PUK Peshmerga fighters listed by Talabani, as well as opening of the Sulaymaniyah International Airport.
The major provisions of the agreement regulate transfer of all strategic facilities, including oil fields in Kirkuk, to Baghdad. Evidently, the rest fields will be enough for “dignified people to live a life worth living.”
The last provisions of the agreement suggest establishment of a new region in territories of the PUK-controlled provinces: entire Sulaymaniyah, Halabja, and part of Kirkuk. No exact terms are mentioned, but one of the provisions says it may happen in six months. The word “autonomy” is not mentioned in the agreement.
There is no Kurdistan any longer, at least, on half of the territory of the former autonomous region and on the two-third of the territories controlled by the Kurdish government by October 16.
Reportedly, Barzani’s government is negotiating for “honorary” capitulation and surrender of its two provinces: Erbil and Dahuk. Baghdad proficiently conserves the split of Kurds into two clans.
But there is one nuance: Shahabists have already attacked dozens of communities in Sulaymaniyah province, which is not provided for by the Talabani-Ameri agreement. Where they will stop and who will stop them is a big question.
There is another comparison with Ukraine. Operation to destroy Kurdistan was prepared amid comforting talks that Baghdad is ready to agree on creation of Iraq and Kurdistan confederation and Kurds will not be demanded to refuse their referendum results, since confederation is a union of sovereign states that “often leads to independence!”
On October 9, a member of Iraqi Kurdistan Council of Political Leadership Abdallah Varati told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that “the third party representing one of the neighbor states” handed over to the Kurdish government Baghdad’s proposal “approved by some political factions in the parliament and government of Iraq” on establishment of confederation. Noteworthy that the “third party” suggesting “the idea of confederation” did not conceal itself. A day earlier, Mustafa Ozcelik, leader of Turkish Kurdistan Freedom Party loyal to Ankara said the referendum is a legal expression of the public will and “if Iraq recognizes Kurdistan as an independent state, it will enable creating a confederation.”
Varati responded to Baghdad immediately saying “Erbil may weigh confederation with Baghdad if the central government of the Kurdish state is recognized basing on the results of the plebiscite.” He meant Kirkuk and other disputable territories as well. It seemed that usual bargaining has started.
However, one can hardly speak of flawless victory of Baghdad and its neighbors opposing Kurdistan’s independence.
Baghdad’s victory will increase Tehran’s influence in Iraq’s security agencies even more and will make pro-Iranian elites, such as supporters of the former prime minister, vice president Nuri al-Maliki, one of those to be blamed for the Sunnite revolt, even stronger. This will weaken Washington’s influence. In such state of affairs, the U.S. will not let them finally defeat Kurds and will intensively use the “ISIS without ISIS” card – “democratic Sunnite autonomy” in the west of Iraq. Washington has already started that process.
Kurdistan was destroyed, but not Kurds. They will scale back their ambitions, make conclusions about the reasons of defeat and get prepared for the next right moment. We dare to say that ISIS was almost destroyed, but Sunnites are not. Most of them had to vow allegiance to the terrorist organization, but did not participate in its crimes. They just joined militia in their own towns and villages. “Incidents” (or to put it frankly, atrocities) by Shahabists towards Sunnite fights and civilians increased their hatred towards Baghdad.
On October 6, authoritative Sunnite sheik Muzahim al Huwet representing Neynava (Mosul) tribes announced his plans to hold a referendum for establishment of Sunnite autonomy as part of Nineveh, Anbar, Salaheddin, Diyala and Sunnite regions of Baghdad on the right bank of Tigris River (over half of Iraq’s territory, the so-called ‘Sunnite Triangle’). Sunnites can claim also part of Kirkuk with Kurds, since Shiite provinces are located much farther in the south. Shiite majority, more precisely, Baghdad, behaves too confident trying to keep control over two other communities that account for about 40% of total population.
The more so as, the council of the province also announced an intention to seek autonomy of Basra province, absolute Shiite and Arabic. According to deputy head of the province council, “due to export of oil, sea ports and other resources” Basra’s contribution to Iraq’s “total budget is over 80%”, whereas the region itself receives miserable funds.
In short, Shiite majority is extremely diverse when it comes to domestic policy and foreign allies. Many are discontented to see Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship replacing dictatorship of Iran’s ayatollahs. Some even dare to criticize Shahabists whose commanders saved Baghdad in summer of 2014, when army ceased to exist, and have now become new riches. All resemblance to Ukraine is coincidental.
Iraq may lose not only Kurdistan but also Jazeera (perhaps, the Sunnite state will be called so), and Iran will lose both northern corridor to Syria via Kurdistan and the southern one via Jazeera. Turkey may get even more negotiable Barzani, “president” of two tiny provinces of Kurdistan.
“Many thanks” to Baghdad from ISIS militants who waited for and finally saw the split of the coalition. They have got several months to rest. These months should be counted since summer, when Baghdad announced successes in fighting terrorists and did not involve in any activities on Iraqi front to enable terrorist to pull maximum troops to the Syrian front.
Nevertheless, the Syrian army attacking Deir-ez-Zor provinces down the right bank of The Euphrates, managed to “get rid of” of pro-American Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advancing along the left bank, and liberated Mayadin. The army has a good chance now to take control over the largest oil fields on the left bank.
Seven years of war have depleted the army, but Syrian Kurds (YPG People’s Protection Units, part of SDF) have got a good reason to question their “strategic ally” U.S. that qualified Baghdad’s attack on Kurdistan as “misunderstanding.” That is why they are not eager to fight. They see no sense in fight for oil that will not be left to Kurds anyway: Kurds have got too far from their territories – Rojava, Western, Syrian Kurdistan.
It is evident that after destroying ISIS, SDF-controlled southern, Arabic territories from Raqqa to Deir-ez-Zor will become a triumph card for U.S. to press Damascus and Baghdad. They can hold talks with Damascus for “democratic union of two Syrians.” They can also create a Sunnite quasi-state in the east of Syria and launch Sunnite upraising in the west of Iraq again with the goal of “unification.” All this is possible on condition that their quasi-state gets oil-and-gas fields of Deir-ez-Zor.
These fields are vital for Damascus. A new star of global politics, French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that “no settlement is possible in Syria without Russia” might seem funny, but he makes some more serious statements too. For instance, he said Damascus will have to think twice before choosing “allies,” if it anticipates the West’s support.
Anyway, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responded to that proposal yet in August saying that Syria neither asks nor waits assistance from the countries that unleashed war against it. Deir-ez-Zor’s oil will enable Syria restore economy much more quickly.
As to Syrian Kurds, they have nothing to do, but think seriously over proposal of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who said yet on September 26 that Damascus is open for talks with Kurds about their autonomy and hinted that common efforts to destroy ISIS are needed for that. Evidently, he suggested cooperation in Deir-ez-Zor.
On October 11 (when the situation around Iraqi Kurdistan began growing extremely tense), Abdul Karim Umar, chairman of the committee for international relations of Jazeera Canton of the Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava) responded to the Syrian minister’s proposal calling it “belated” but “positive” and saying that Kurds are ready to talk to Damascus in case of international guarantees and through Russia’s mediation.
On the same day, Saudi newspaper Sharq El-Ewset reported that a week earlier, YPG Co-Chair Sipan Hamo visited Russia. In Moscow, Kurds discussed three issues: operation in Deir-ez-Zor, threat to the most western Kurdish canton Afrin from Turkey, and Syria’s political future, probably, the issue of Rojava self-government. Apparently, Kurds received certain guarantees from the Kremlin.
Who will stop Iraqi troops, Hashd al-Shaabi? What form of “self-preservation” will work? The Gorran Movement urges dissolution of the bankrupt government of the autonomous region and establishment of Interim National Council.
Albert Akopyan (Urumov)