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Threats to Kurdistan are real

By Paul Davis 20/9/2017
PM Haider al-Abadi and the Iraq Supreme Court have directed the Kurdistan Region in Iraq to suspend the upcoming referendum on Kurdish Independence. As I have written before, there is no applicable law or section of the constitution that gives any Iraqi federal entity the authority to halt a regional referendum. Nevertheless, legal rights and military action have not always gone hand in hand. 

When a group of German lawyers confronted Hitler, his response was:  You bring your law books and I will bring my guns and we will see who wins. This may soon be the situation Kurdistan will face. Academic arguments have a place and legal review is the preferred action in disputes; however, there are times when a group of people, or governments, decide that force is the preferred method of conflict resolution. Turkey and Iran have also announced their objections, and Turkey is holding military exercises across the border from Kurdistan. The Iraqi parliament voted to have Abadi use all means necessary to stop the referendum even although he previously said he will not send tanks to the Kurdish region.

No one can seriously argue that this move by the Kurds comes as a surprise. The Iraqi Kurdish population has been treated as second class citizens since the inception of the country and has been fighting for its independence ever since. The arguments made by Baghdad, as well as Washington, ring hollow on all counts. 

To desire the retention of Iraq as a single unified country may sound noble but in fact rejects history and facts on the ground. The treatment of the different sectors of Iraq by various past governments has proved that Iraq was never a unified country, run at times by the British, Sunni and now Shia entities, the minorities were always discounted, especially the Kurds. For the other major objection, Kurdish independence will be disruptive on the war against ISIS, how could any intelligent person believe this?

ISIS or any Islamic terrorist group will be a threat whether it is an autonomous region of Iraq or an independent nation. The only countries that can disrupt the war on ISIS are the ones claiming it will be disrupted: Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. The Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and their counterparts in Syria have been at the forefront of the fight from the beginning even as others had run. 

Regardless, none of this will likely convince those, who now fear the inevitable from attempting to impose with force that which they cannot stop. Those nations that have told Erbil to continue to negotiate with Baghdad over differences, ignoring the fact that Baghdad has refused to do so in more than a decade, now need to be the force to stop any military action from Iraq, Turkey or wherever. 

Unlike the velvet divorce of Czechoslovakia, Baghdad is not likely to let neither go of the Kurdish region voluntarily nor will Turkey stand-down its military operations of fighting against the Kurds wherever they might be. Without some outside interference, there will be violence. I have no doubt the Kurdish Peshmerga will be able to resist the Iraqi Army and bloody the Turks. But why should they have to? 

One bright spot in this is the recent contract signed by the KRG with the Russian oil company Rosneft to invest in a gas pipeline in Kurdistan. This brings Russia into the game with a need to protect its interests. The down side of this for the Kurds is that Russia has never been a reliable partner to anyone. This extension of the “Great Game” could at least provide a respite for the Kurds. 

Kurdistan and the world need to be prepared for any eventuality. The only thing I am reasonably sure of is that there will be a referendum and the Kurds will vote for independence. What follows is unknown.


Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence and former Soviet analyst. He is a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently he is the president of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington D.C.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


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pre-Boomer Marine brat | 21/9/2017
All of this is true, but there's more -- Iran's theocracy and its known goal of a "Shia Crescent" running from the Arabian Sea to the Mediterranean. A KRG completely independent of Persian/Abbasid Baghdad would put a brick wall in front of that imperial dream. The IRGC and the Ayatollahs will not permit that. Therefore, neither will the Sadrs and Badrs and all the other little rug-rats.
FAUthman | 21/9/2017
Baghdad may use force, you say to stop the referendum, two questions then arise: 1- doing what militarily exactly? sending in tanks? the air force strafing referendum centers or what and where are the indications for any of this, Baghdsd has less than five days to mass troops against the Kurds and prepare an offensive. No this is not going to happen. 2- Assuming there is an attack here and there and conflict breaks out, then what? Will Baghdad tanks advance on Arbil from the south, Iran from the east, and Turkey from the west for a total defeat of the Kurds and stop a civil war, while US, Russia UN and and everyone else will sit on their hands and become spectators to all this. Of course Kurds will immediately declare independence unilaterally. Is this what the international community would want! Sorry that is in not going to happen either and in this column Paul Davis is way off the mark. I am with PM Barzani who has the opposite view that there will be no military responses against the referendum from either Baghdad, Tehran, or Ankara!
Erbilastan | 21/9/2017
"What follows is unknown." Against this clear prediction why are we being forced to vote YES in the referendum? The Kurdish leadership has no clear answer to the future of Kurdistan. The only country supporting our cause at this time is Israel who is geostratigically cornered and it's support is self serving and care a bit about what happens to the plight of the Kurds. Independence is our right. But we need to wait awhile longer. In addition by signing an agreement with Rosneft there is no guarantee Turkey will allow the pipeline to pass through her territory, then we have to aks Iran which I doubt will let that happen under these circumstances. Let's assume one of them agrees to let Kurdish oil pass through their territory, Iraq could easily sell more oil to Russian at deep discounts to undercut the Kurdish shipments, bringing our oil export to a halt. By the way the world is not as hungry for oil as it used to be since major buyers are focusing on renewable energy etc. The overall danger to Kurdish aspirations is real and the timing of this referendum is the worst for Kurdistan.
Ibrahim Ariyan | 21/9/2017
No one wanet to be blamed for the disintegration of Iraq, hence the reluctant disavowment of the realirmties. Nevertheless, there definitely is only one foothold for the West in the middle of the MIDDLE east; and that is Kurdistan. Who do you think the West will choose? Kurds, ISIS, Iranian Hashed Al Shaabi, or Turkish Islamist?
GreatUsakurdistan | 21/9/2017
A great writing Mr.Paul.The only thing i wish you had used the right word meaning instead of iraqi Kurds you could say southern Kurds or South Kurdistan.But this is not your fault as many Kurds allso forced to use this wrong name.Because in reality there is no such think Turkish Kurds,iraki Kurds or Iranian Kurds etc.There is Northen Kurds, Sothern Kurds,Eastern Kurds,Western Kurds etc or Kurmanj Kurds, Soran Kurds etc.Thank you. Mr Paul.

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