Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Now is the Time for an Independent Kurdistan | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, addresses the opening of a conference on “Recognizing Kurdish Genocide” in Erbil. (R)

The establishment of any new state entity must be analyzed within three fundamental dimensions. These are the internal, regional, and international dimensions. This is particularly true of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, in light of its unique circumstances and location.

On the internal level, the factors that qualify the region to transform into an independent state are both constant and variable.

The constant elements include the territory itself, although large parts are still outside the region’s jurisdiction, and the people, who are more cohesive now than ever before, with an official language and a shared common history. As for the variable elements, these include the three constitutional institutions; legislative, executive, and judicial, along with civil society organizations, natural resources, and the growing economy. The region’s natural resources include the oil and gas sectors that have attracted dozens of international companies, including corporate giants with enormous influence.

With regards to the regional dimension, this is the most prominent and sensitive, but at the moment the conditions for independence are far more favorable than at any time in the past. We can divide this dimension into two sub-categories; internal and external regional factors.

Internally, the regional dimension pertains to the Kurdistan’s relationship with the Iraqi state. This state has passed through phases of what can only be described as chaos, embodied in sectarian conflict, the continued activities of Al-Qaeda, and ongoing rampant corruption. Indeed, the only feature of Baghdad’s relationship with the Kurdish people has been to marginalize them in various ways, from forcing them to carry arms to preserve their existence, through to coercive and chauvinistic policies such as Arabization, deportation, exclusion, and systematic murder, and finally transforming Kurdistan into an open incinerator with chemical gas and acts of genocide, such as the Anfal campaigns. The present-day problem between Baghdad and Erbil lies in the fact that the new Arab politicians have forgotten that the Kurds are a wounded people, outside of the sufferings of the Iraqi state. These new politicians should have done everything they could to rebuild confidence and win the Kurds’ affection through a formal apology to the people and compensation for those affected as quickly as possible. They should have resolved outstanding issues in a peaceful and transparent manner and avoided threats of violence (unlike Nuri Al-Maliki) no matter what, in order to erase the traces of the past and build a state of citizenship for all.

As for the external regional dimension, this relates to Kurdistan’s relationship with Syria, Iran, and Turkey. The Syrian case is well known, and the regime there would be unable to act against against the will of the Kurdish people, due to being engulfed in an internal crisis.

Iran is also in a bad position internally and externally. The Iranian economy is moving from bad to worse, amid a clear case of instability and the eruption of conflict between the leaders on the one hand, and between them and the people on the other. On the international level, the Iranian regime is isolated to a large extent from the outside world and is economically and politically under siege. Under the existing equation, Iran could not mobilize its troops against an autonomous Kurdistan region, especially with the presence of Turkey, and such a move outside its borders would be contrary to international conventions. Finally, Tehran’s economic interests in Kurdistan compel it to continue its good relations, and do not forget the strategic Kurdish dimension inside Iran.

For Turkey, the political map has now changed for many reasons. The first is the neo-Ottoman ideology of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which sees itself as the representative of the region’s Sunnis versus Shi’ite Iran. The second is that Baghdad has failed to build a civil state without ideological or military inclinations. It has entered into the bosom of Iran and pledged its support for the Assad government, and has become an important part of the “Shi’ite Crescent”. Likewise, Baghdad has neglected its Kurdish ally and failed in its “divide and rule” policy towards Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. Third, Erbil has been able to build a balanced relationship with everyone, especially with Erdoğan’s AKP party, and has opened the doors for foreign investment. This includes Turkish investments in the Kurdistan region, with giant Turkish companies entering into the oil industry there, transforming the Kurds from Turkey’s enemies into close partners. Fourth, there is the Turkish government’s failure to curtail the role of the Kurdish movement in Syrian Kurdistan, so now it is trying to deal with the situation realistically. To implement this realism, Turkey needs the Iraqi Kurdistan region in order to help prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. Fifth, a draft peace agreement between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been agreed upon. Under these terms, a strategic force for Kurds in the south of Turkey will be created, thus strengthening Turkey’s relations with the Kurdish region.

As for the international dimension, the West’s position towards the Kurdish people was cool during the Cold War, and the Kurds were among the most prominent victims of that global, polar conflict. Today, from a political perspective, the international community is more understanding of the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan for many reasons, including the Kurds ability to administer their region in a different fashion to the Baghdad government’s practices, with economic success and security stability. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has also built closer political, economic, and cultural ties with Western countries, to the extent that the Kurdish genocide was recognized as such and discussed in European parliaments, while dozens of Western companies have entered the region, as a result of generous offers from the KRG.

All these factors mean that the Kurdistan region is now just around the corner from independence. Yet without this, the Kurdish house will be left without sovereignty and with its doors open to anyone and everyone. As a result, the Kurds would remain vulnerable to genocide and other atrocities in the future.