The Islamic State (IS) has rapidly occupied the Middle Eastern equation over the last year and the Kurds find themselves at the centre of the battle.
While the Kurds assumed control of disputed territories as the Iraqi army wilted away amidst the IS avalanche, they have endured great atrocities under the hands of IS and with the Peshmerga suffering hundreds of casualties.
The battle against IS is far from just a military conundrum. At the heart of the matter is a political crisis underlined by a fractured landscape and deepening sectarian lines. The Sunni dilemma has not been addressed and IS merely took full advantage.
This begs the question of the repercussions of remaining as part of the Iraqi state for the Kurds. The statehood ambition of the Kurds is hardly a secret or a new phenomenon. If you ask any Kurd when statehood aspirations arose and the answer is most likely long before the artificial map of the Middle East was even drawn.
Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani is scheduled to commence an official visit to the US where will meet both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Barzani’s visit comes soon after the visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The fight against IS is likely to dominate the agenda, but according to statements by Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) presidency, the issue of independence will also be discussed.
The notion of Kurdish statehood at a sensitive time in the struggle against IS is hardly music to Obama’s ears. On the contrary, the Washington administration has tried hard in recent months to reinforce the principle of a “unified federal, pluralistic and democratic Iraq”. Key to this has been coordinating coalition’s efforts and weapons supplies via the central government.
Barzani is likely to repeat the calls for more arms but the US tip-toeing around Baghdad has been a big hindrance.
A great example was the recent international anti-IS conference in London, where despite their crucial role in the fight against IS, the Kurds were not even represented in the conference as the presence of al-Abadi was deemed sufficient to represent all Iraqis.
A key condition of the US intervention in Iraq last year was the ouster of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the onset of a more liberal and inclusive government. In fact national reconciliation and unity has been a common theme of the US list since 2003.
A US spokeswoman confirmed that Barzani’s visit will include talks on Wednesday with Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken to discuss “the combined campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”
A key litmus test will be the liberation of Mosul. But this is not without its own perils. Ultimately, it must be Sunni sentiment and the local population that play the key role in driving out IS in conjunction with the Iraqi army.
And this is where Iraqi fault lines are best summed up. It is the Shia militias that are arguably the strongest force at the disposal of Baghdad and their presence in Mosul is hardly going to bode well for the locals.
The Kurds, who have shouldered tremendous sacrifices in largely liberating Kurdish areas, will have little appetite to lead the charge in Arab dominated areas such as Mosul but will ultimately still play a key support role.
Once IS is driven out, who is then responsible for the security and policy of the area? Without Sunni control over security, any Shia or Kurdish control of Mosul will simply stoke further unrest.
This ultimately leads to the question of arming Sunnis and creating an official Sunni force. Whilst it may be effective in the short-term, it will merely deepen the fractures in the Iraqi state.
Regardless of whether Obama entertains the notion of formal Kurdish independence or US insistence that the battle against IS has somewhat served to unify Iraqi ranks, IS has merely served to underscore the division of Iraq.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc