The Kurdish population of over 30 million is the largest minority group in the middle east without a home state which they have been striving towards for about 140 years. The Kurdish military has been the number one backer of the US military in its goal to oust ISIS from Iraq.
In the last week of September 2017, the Kurdish peoples in Kurdistan have overwhelmingly voted in favor of Independence. But that is only the beginning as there is major opposition to this move by major players in the middle east.
One major obstacle is over the city of Kirkuk. This was a city that had been conquered by ISIS/ ISIL around June 9, 2014. ACCORDING TO WIKIPEDIA, “four days later, on 13 June, in the eastern part of the province, Kurdish military forces (Peshmerga) advanced and took the city of Kirkuk, after government (Iraqi) forces had abandoned their posts in the face of the ISIL offensive, expanding the Kurdish zone of control in Northern Iraq. Kurdish forces then awaited further orders before moving towards the areas controlled by ISIL A Peshmerga spokesman said, “The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of Peshmerga, no Iraqi army remains in Kirkuk now.”Ten tanks and dozens of Humvee vehicles that had been abandoned by the (Iraqi) Army were seized by Kurdish forces.”
Here is the rest of the story…
On September 30, 2017, David Zucchino of the New York Times penned the following report, “After the Vote, Does the Kurdish Dream of Independence Have a Chance?.”
“The question now is whether an arid, landlocked proto-state dependent on hostile neighbors can overcome is own shortcomings — and Iraq’s disruptive retaliation — to build a viable path to independence.”
With its troubled economy and dearth of democratic institutions, its prospects were already tenuous. Its best hopes lay in its oil reserves and American support, but Turkey has threatened to cut off its oil pipeline, and the relationship with the United States soured after the Kurds rebuffed its entreaties to cancel the vote.”
“Rather than negotiate and then seek international recognition, as the US and others had asked, the Kurds forged ahead with the referendum.”
“But if anything, the vote, while satisfying the Kurds emotionally, may have set back their national aspirations.”
“Now, after a 93 percent “yes” vote on Monday, the Kurds are beseeching Baghdad to negotiate. Baghdad is not only refusing, but has demanded that the vote results be annulled and has moved to isolate the region, known as Kurdistan.”
“For the Kurds, the vote was a potent and historic touchstone, a declaration to the world that they this is their moment and they are not turning back.”
“This is an irreversible step toward independence,” said Peter W. Galbraith, a former American diplomat with close ties to the Kurdish leadership.
“But the Kurds may have underestimated the depth of international opposition.”
“Before they had even stopped celebrating, Iraq and its two powerful neighbors, Turkey and Iran, immediately went to work to negate the vote. Iraq fears losing a third of its country, as well as oil and natural gas reserves. Turkey and Iran fear that independence for Iraq’s Kurds would embolden separatist ambitions among their own Kurdish minorities.”
“On Saturday (9/30/17), Iraq moved to take control of the international border crossing leading into the region from Turkey, officials said in Baghdad.”
“Iraq has forced the suspension of international flights to Kurdistan’s two international airports, and threatened to close land crossings linking Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq.”
“Iraq’s Parliament has asked Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to bring charges against Kurdish leaders who participated in the referendum and to send troops into disputed areas claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad.”
“Turkey and Iraq are conducting military maneuvers on Iraq’s borders near Kurdistan. “
CreditIvor Prickett for The New York Timesraq and Iran plan joint military maneuvers along their border next week, aimed at securing Iraqi control of three border crossings from areas controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government, Iran’s military said Saturday.”
“A healthy democratic government might weather the storm. But the Kurdistan Regional Government lacks the foundations of a democratic state — rule of law, free and fair elections, civil society and a legislature with real power to challenge a dynastic executive leadership.”
“We don’t have rule of law — we have a monarchy,” said Rabbon Marof, a member of the Kurdish Parliament and a leader of the “No for Now” movement that opposed the vote.”
“The region’s president, Massoud Barzani, remains in power two years after his term expired. The Kurdish Parliament was paralyzed for two years until it met two weeks ago to rubber-stamp the referendum Mr. Barzani had already set in motion.”
“The government is a Barzani family enterprise. Mr. Barzani is the son of the former Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani. Massoud Barzani’s son Masrour Barzani heads the security council in his father’s government.”
Massoud Barzani’s nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, is prime minister. The president’s uncle is Hoshyar Zebari, Iraqi’s former foreign minister and Mr. Barzani’s top adviser on the referendum.
Denise Natali, an expert on Kurdistan at National Defense University in Washington, says the issue for the Kurds may not be whether the region can transform itself into a state but the kind of state it would become: “poor, failed, and unstable.”
Mr. Zebari acknowledged in an interview on Friday that the regional government had “shortcomings,” but he said it was more democratic and secure than the rest of Iraq. He said the independence vote would force more accountability.
The region is an economic weakling dependent on oil. It earns roughly $8 billion a year from oil shipped through Turkey via a pipeline that Ankara now threatens to shut down.
Shutting down the pipeline would also cost Turkey, which earns between $500 million and $1 billion a year from it, according to regional experts. But the Turks could absorb a shutdown far easier than the Kurds.
Even with the pipeline flowing, the Kurdish economy is in dire straits. Oil revenues have plunged as the price of petroleum has fallen worldwide, depriving the government of its main source of revenue. The Kurdish government is $20 billion in debt, analysts say, and has not been able to pay all its soldiers and pays public employees only about 40 percent of their salaries.
“Kurdistan is not ready because economically, it is a mess,” said Joost Hiltermann, a Middle East specialist at the International Crisis Group. “I don’t see independence happening,” he added. “It’s all about capability, not desire.”
Moreover, more than half of Kurdish oil revenue comes from the oil fields of Kirkuk, a city that lies at the heart of the standoff with Baghdad.
Kurdish troops seized the multiethnic city after Iraqi troops fled an Islamic State assault in 2014.
Kurds consider Kirkuk a spiritual homeland. “To Kurds, Kirkuk is their Jerusalem,” said David L. Phillips, a former State Department adviser who has worked on Iraq for 30 years.
But Baghdad considers the Kurdish claim illegitimate, and Iraq’s Parliament has asked Mr. Abadi to dispatch troops to seize Kirkuk’s oil fields.
Nor can the Kurds expect a lifeline from the United States, which protected them from Saddam Hussein’s executioners with a no-fly zone in 1991 that provided breathing space to carve out the autonomous enclave.
Washington feared the referendum would fracture Iraq and undermine the American-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Friday that the United States did not recognize the referendum, which he said “lacks legitimacy,” and urged the Iraqis and Kurds to “remain focused on defeating ISIS.”
The Kurds believe they have a trump card in pesh merga fighters, who have played a pivotal role in the coalition.”
But for the Kurdish leadership, there is no going back. Mr. Zebari said the Kurds’ relationship with Iraq was irrevocably broken, and the Kurds worry that Iran’s influence on Iraq’s Shiite-led government — and on Shiite militias incorporated into the Iraqi Army — will only strengthen.
“Instead of partnership, they are advocating majority rule by the Shiia, which will make us always a minority and always a loser,” Mr. Zebari said.
Mr. Barzani bet that a broad public mandate for independence would provide leverage against Baghdad in negotiating a separation. But there are no negotiations.”
Mr. Phillips said Iraq would ultimately negotiate on “a friendly divorce,” with the United States as a likely intermediary.
“Negotiations are in Baghdad’s interests,” Mr. Phillips said. “Picking a fight with the Kurds would merely exacerbate conflict and instability.”
“One possible way out, analysts said, could be a Kurdish confederation with Iraq, with constitutional power-sharing. Another, Mr. Phillips said, may involve shared governance of Kirkuk, with power distributed among ethnic groups.”
“If Kirkuk were somehow resolved or set aside, Iraq might well be willing to negotiate independence for the three governorates the Kurds have run virtually on their own for a quarter century. But Iran and Turkey would not go along.”
“But Mr. Galbraith said that if Baghdad refuses to bargain in good faith, the Kurds may unilaterally declare independence at some point.”