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Rudaw

Kurdistan

Despite Pressure, Kurds Not Rushing in To Take on Insurgents

By Nawzad Mahmoud 16/6/2014
This new reality on the ground leaves the country’s Kurds, who see both perils -- but also opportunities -- in the mayhem, with hard choices to make. Photo: AP
This new reality on the ground leaves the country’s Kurds, who see both perils -- but also opportunities -- in the mayhem, with hard choices to make. Photo: AP

So far, the Kurds of Iraq are seen as the only true winners of the mayhem that erupted in the country last week. But with the Sunni insurgency fortified in neighboring areas, how will the Kurds adjust themselves and what options do they have?

SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region - Despite the Iraqi army’s aerial raid on jihadist bases in and around Mosul, there are so far no clear signs of retreat for the array of insurgents who have seized much of Iraq’s Sunni-populated territories.

Families who fled Mosul earlier last week are slowly returning to the fallen city, which is now managed by a cocktail of “radical and moderate” rebellious Sunni factions. Some reports suggest that the insurgency is run only in part by the petrifying gunmen of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The bulk of the insurgency has been characterized as a “revolt” by the Sunni minority of a Shiite-led country.

This new reality on the ground leaves the country’s Kurds, who see both perils -- but also opportunities -- in the mayhem, with hard choices to make.

A clear majority of Kurds, although unmistakably not part of the bloody sectarian battle between Sunnis and Shiites, identify themselves as Sunnis. But since the fall of the former regime in 2003, Kurds have effectively been in government coalitions with the country’s Shiites, who would unlikely be able to govern Iraq without the direct blessing of the powerful Kurdish factions in the north.

With the Sunnis strengthening their roots in the bordering areas through insurgency, Kurdish political parties have followed the events with a watchful eye, leaving all options open.

“If the Sunni insurgents become a reality in these areas, we have to come to terms with them, or at least, we should then see them as a new force,” says Arif Taifour, a senior member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish party.

But the general mood among Kurds is still very hostile towards ISIS militants.

“This is a terrorist organization. Kurds have historically been victims of terrorism, this is why we see ISIS as a terrorist group and should fight against them,” says Saadi Pira, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), another major Kurdish party.

There have been no major clashes so far between the insurgents and Kurdish forces. ISIS’s main goal has been to push the Iraqi army as far back into the Shiite regions as possible. Sunni insurgents have publically not been critical of the Peshmarga’s march on the disputed territories -- at least for now.

“It would be a mistake to fight the ISIS at this stage,” says Taifour, who is also Iraq’s deputy parliament speaker. “We should defend our own Kurdish territories outside the Kurdistan Region and not become part of the religious fight in Iraq,” he cautions.

But he believes that “sooner or later” the jihadists will turn their guns against the Kurds. “We should not give them the benefit of the doubt.”

“The insurgents take different shapes, but share the same values. They do not negotiate, but spread terror among defenseless people.”

Taifour says that ISIS would “harm” the Kurdish cause, if given the chance. “Kurds should move carefully not to give them the reason to destabilize our region.”

“It is not just about the ISIS. Every other Sunni group, including the former Baathists, are with the insurgents as well,” Taifour explains.

The Kurdish Islamic parties have similar views. They prefer a “wait and see” policy to an open war against the militants.

“The ISIS and other Sunni factions will either be pushed out of Mosul by the Iraqi army, or stay there and make sure Iraq is divided into three states,” says a senior member of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, Aboubakr Haladni.

“This is why we should be prepared for every possibility, but should not take part in any wars at the moment.”

Similar views are expressed by Kurdistan’s other Islamic parties.

The stakes for neighboring countries are high as well.

Iran has publically condemned the insurgency and declared its support for the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. Reliable Sources tell Rudaw that an Iranian delegation arrived in the Kurdistan Region last week to talk the Kurds into military action against the jihadists.

On Monday, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani was discussing the turmoil in Iraq with Iran’s top military officials, according to Iranian media reports.

Sources tell Rudaw that Maliki has also urged the PUK for assistance in an onslaught against the militant Islamists. So far, the KDP has rejected any collaboration with Baghdad. Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, who is also head of the KDP, has stated that he wants to rally support for a united Kurdish front.

“We have paid a heavy price in the past by supporting Maliki. Iran clearly would like us to engage in war against the insurgents,” KDP’s Taifour said. “But we do not see it as strategically sound for our cause.” 

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Kurdoz | 16/6/2014
No no no no Maliki La! We dont want any cooperation or whatsoever, we have seen with our own eyes the hostilty against Kurdish people, a shame because jn the past you were very supportive of the Kurdish case, wich changed when u became prime minister! So no sorr it out your self, we are taking back all our Kurdish land and defend every inch with honour and blood! Biji Kurdi Kurdistan!!
deport the shiites in Kurdistan | 16/6/2014
Kurds must stay out of this fight. Do not trust the shiites. they will oppress kurds as soon the they regain power. Iraqi Shiites receive the most weapons and training from the west so they are the greatest threat to Kurdistan.
Ako | 17/6/2014
Undoubtedly a weak Sunni neighbour which is at fight with the rest of the world is much safer than Shittie government which is gonna be supported by the west, Iran and Syria . So yes ! for three states in Iraq
Cevdet Ali | 17/6/2014
If Obama is cooperating with Iran to help Shiite in Iraq why is he going against Iran in helping Shiite in Syria? What a hypocrite? So, US is fighting ISIS in Iraq but supports them in Syria!? Can someone explain how that makes any sense? F**K hypocrite USA!
Shivan | 17/6/2014
The Ba'ath party, and Isis will fight each other soon because they're already not agreeing on they laws that Isis are trying to put in place. Wright now no one want to fight Kurds because no sides want to have two fronts to fight. Second if Kurds choice to fight Isis now would be a big mistake because all the siny Muslim are on Isis side and we would be fighting in their territory that can be dengeriuse. We should wait and let them take care of each other. But keep close eye on them and Maliki we shouldn't trust ether side after all their Arabs. Let's think smart because every live of Kurds are valuable keep every one safe. Biji Kurd o kurdistan
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