Kurdistan on the horizon

Betsy Hiel reports: In June, as ISIS overran Mosul and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, the Iraqi army melted away. Kurdish forces — the peshmerga, or “those who face death” — raced to secure the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and other areas that Kurds have long claimed as their own.

Amid the chaos, Kurdish President Masoud Barzani ordered preparations for a self-determination referendum.

In August, the outgunned, outmanned Kurds pulled back to defend Irbil, leaving scores of Iraqi Christians and Yazidis, a religious minority, to ISIS’ savagery.

Kurds accused Baghdad of withholding weapons and ammunition, including emergency aid from the United States.

ISIS’ defeat of the Kurdish peshmerga, long respected as fierce fighters, left many Kurds rethinking their timeline for independence — but not their ultimate goal.

Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish political analyst, considers it “a wake-up call for the Kurds, that what we have today … is not viable to give us complete independence.”

Only America’s airstrikes on ISIS, he said, “came to our rescue.”

Henri Barkey, an international relations professor and Kurdish expert at Lehigh University in Northampton County, predicts that if Kurds held a referendum, “90 percent would say ‘yes’ to independence. Who wouldn’t?”

But “the timing is bad now,” he added, because “ISIS is a real serious danger.”

Barkey, a trustee at American University of Iraq in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, believes the longer Kurds wait, the better their chance of achieving independence: “The more they play that centralizing-glue role, the more they build up chips, the more time they have to consolidate some of (their) positions … for instance, on Kirkuk.”

Osman believes the problem “is what kind of independence do we want?”

The “makeup of ISIS, the demographic and the geopolitics of ISIS, do not suggest that ISIS is going to end anytime soon,” he explained. “ISIS is a Sunni Arab problem — Kurds and Shias cannot end them; Sunni Arabs have to.

“My worry is that with the continuation of ISIS where they are, we will end up with a Taliban-style state just to our south. … We could become a strong-security state, ruled by an elite that isn’t accountable.

“When security kicks in, democratic values (can) be sacrificed,” he said. “That is what we really don’t want.

“Defending Kurdistan is one thing, but turning (it) into a security state is my biggest fear.” [Continue reading…]

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