Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Independent Kurdistan Taking Shape

Daily Times- Pakistan

"A greater Kurdistan nation state taken from the four countries where Kurds are minorities is improbable, although greater autonomy is growing within Turkey and Syria if not Iran, and an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is becoming more likely by the day. Kurds who are scoring significant victories over Islamic State (IS) are by far the most effective force fighting IS in both Iraq and Syria. However, they appear intent on keeping all the ground they have taken from the notorious terrorist group for their own national project, endangering the larger cause of keeping these two battered nation states in one piece and raising the prospect of another war patiently waiting at the conclusion of the current one. There is no doubt that the Kurds are the mightiest ground force against IS today. The recent run of victories in Syria illustrates the Kurds’ battlefield capabilities. Six months after winning in Kobani, the Turkish border town where as many as 1,000 IS fighters died, Syrian Kurd fighters took another border town, Tel Abyad, creating a corridor on Syria’s northern border and, far more importantly, cutting off the main supply line to Raqqah, IS’s capital 60 miles due south. But all these efforts of the Kurds are also driven by the desire of achieving nationhood.

The Kurds fight so well largely because, in addition to trying to defeat an extremist enemy, they are fighting for something else: a country of their own. The future Kurdistan may be severely buffeted across Arab portions of the Middle East. Neither Syria nor Iraq have effective and powerful central governments, (thanks to NATO/Israel) which have in the past crushed Kurdish nationalist movements. Kurds smell the great opportunity for building an independent Kurdistan now. The Kurds, despite their large numbers — about 30 million worldwide — as well as their shared language, culture and identity, have never had a nation and were divided in four countries in the Sykes-Picot Agreement created after World War I by the UK and France. However, they are getting closer to one nation with every victory in the battlefield. In Iraq, Kurdish forces armed by both Iran and the US have taken perhaps 10,000 square miles from IS since last fall. They also snapped up the disputed city of Kirkuk, rich in oil and cultural significance to the Kurds and Arabs alike, and are preventing Arabs from returning to some villages. Houses are marked “Reserved for Kurds,” and Kurdish checkpoints declare, “No Arabs allowed”.

These acts on the ground are clearly intended to create “facts on the ground”, a political reality that Kurdish leaders will point to as they navigate their relationship with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, to which they are currently bound by oil-revenue contracts, if little else. As valiantly as the Kurds have fought, losing an estimated 1,000 men and women over the last year against IS, they see the conflict in terms of national liberation. Massoud Barzani, who leads the Kurdistan regional government, has repeatedly said Kurds will not fight for the rest of Iraq or for the idea of it. Iraqi Kurds are using US airstrikes and the political vacuum in northern Iraq not only to push back IS but also to recapture disputed territories and oil fields. The Kurds say they will back up Iraqi forces seeking to retake Mosul but will not be the spearhead. Their aim is defensive: to secure their borders with the rest of Iraq, especially those they have expanded since the summer but not to help Baghdad restore the status quo ante.

A future independent Kurdish state faces many political, economic and administrative challenges but its success could be a game changer in the Middle East. However, it is a hard reality as well that the west has not changed its official position towards Iraq, Syria and Turkey and still wants the borders to remain intact, which goes against Kurdish aspirations for independence. So, the Kurdish leadership has to negotiate its relations with the west in the coming time. The Kurds cannot be ignored in the present scenario of domestic upheaval. Political changes throughout the region have made Kurds critical players on many fronts in the Middle East. Kurds have a long history of marginalisation and persecution by many regimes and, particularly in Iraq and Turkey, have repeatedly risen up to seek greater autonomy or complete independence. Now they feel they are getting closer to their ultimate dream of an independent Kurdish state. Kurdish nationalist aspirations, which are at a high at this point in time, could reshape the Middle East"
Reshaping the Middle East. 

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