Tag Archives: ISIS

The liberation of Mosul rest on the Kurds

If the liberation of Ramadi, Tikrit, Sinjar and more recently Manbij in Syria proved painful and tricky leading to streams of refugees, then Mosul will prove much worse.

Islamic State (IS) has held Mosul for over two years. If the liberation was anything other than bloody and complicated, then it would not have taken months of planning.

The battle for Mosul raises more questions than answers for Baghdad. IS would not have rolled into Mosul with such ease if it did not have support of some locals and various other armed Sunni groups. Without addressing the sectarian discord that plagued Mosul and Sunni heartlands long before IS was even established, the post-liberation of Mosul will provide much trickier to manoeuvre.

Then there is the thousands of civilians that will flee the city, mostly like to the relative safety of Kurdistan. Kurdistan already houses 1.8 million internally displaces persons at a great financial burden that mostly goes unnoticed.

The Iraqi Defence Minister Khalid Obeidi recently warned that the Iraqi government will not allow the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to liberate the city of Mosul. This was compounded by threats from Shia Popular Mobilization Units for Kurdish forces not to enter Mosul.

Ironically, the Shiite militias are likely to play a more effective role than the actual Iraqi army in any battle for Mosul. If Peshmerga are deemed as too sensitive to be deployed within the mainly Sunni city, then the presence of these militias will hardly soothe sectarian tensions. At least, there is a large population of Kurds in Mosul.

For all these warnings, there is no way that Mosul can be liberated without the support of the Peshmerga regardless of any coalition firepower. This was acknowledged by Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, who stated that Mosul operations without the Peshmerga will be impossible. However, Barzani stressed that “they will have supportive role but will not enter the city”.

The importance of the Peshmerga is not lost on the United States who relies heavily on the Kurdish forces. This culminated in a recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between US and Kurdish officials in recent weeks that included provisions of military support to the Peshmerga forces.

Too often US has tip-toed around Baghdad when dealing with the Kurds due to political sensitivities but with the huge sacrifices of the Peshmerga, their critical role both now and the future and the much changed socio-political landscape in Iraq across the Middle East, the Kurds must be dealt with in their own right.

It’s disrespectful to Kurdish sacrifices to deal with Kurdistan through Baghdad when both zones are separated from each other and the Kurds have been all bu

Interview with Shargh Newspaper (Printed in Tehran, Iran)

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Interview with Shargh Newspaper (Printed in Tehran, Iran)

Please note: the interview was conducted in English but translated to Farsi (Persian) for the print edition of Shargh newspaper. The links to the Farsi version are listed below:

http://www.sharghdaily.ir/1394/05/18/Main/PDF/13940518-2367-11-24.pdf (Newspaper Print Edition)

http://tinyurl.com/nmnst2z (Website Edition)

1-Recently, some newspapers near AKP have expressed dissatisfaction about the recent winning of Kurd against ISIS. They believed that Kurds (particularly PYD and PKK) are bigger danger than isis for turkey. What do you think about the arguments? Do you think the argument is the main cause of little support of turkey government of Kurds struggle against Isis? Do you think we can expect change in turkey’s policy toward Kurds struggle against Isis in the next government of the country?

Erdogan and the AKP have been clear that they do not differentiate between the PKK and IS – they see them both as terrorist organisations. But such a labelling does not only affect a party, it is an unfair label on a whole population. The Syrian Kurds have the right to self-defence and PYD has been one of the most affective forces against IS. Who would protect the Kurds if not the YPG?

I don’t expect Turkey to accept PYD with open arms but the people deserve to be protected and should not suffer due to outdated nationalist principles. PYD have not committed massacres or terrorist acts in the same way as IS. Furthermore, how can one say that all Syrian Kurds are PKK affiliated? There are dozens of political parties in Syria, of course, PYD is the main party but Turkish policy on Syrian Kurds is far too narrow.

The fear of PYD\PKK is firmly rooted in Turkish nationalist anxiety. This same fear saw decades of repressive policies against Kurds in Turkey to no benefit but social upheaval and loss of life. You cannot deny 15 million Kurds in Turkey and neither can you deny the 2 million in Syria.

Turkey will not support the Kurds against IS. If they didn’t support at bleak hour of need when Kobane was days from falling when a grave massacre was certain likelihood then I don’t say Turkey bolstering Syrian Kurds now. But PYD and more importantly the Syrian Kurds are not about to vanish.

After such historic gains in Syria after decades of been side-lines, PYD or the Syrian Kurds will not accept a rollback of their gains, in spite of any sabre rattling from Turkey.

2-Recently, President Erdogan said that turkey don’t let to Kurds establish Kurdish government in northern Syria. Do you think the Erdogan warn is serious? Do you think the military intervention of turkey army in Syria in next month will be possible? What would be the reaction of international community on the issue in your opinion?

Erdogan has referred to such red lines since 2012. It didn’t stop PYD from declaring autonomous administrative rule in the 3 cantons or moving relatively unhindered. Turkey has been weary of the raise of the Syrian Kurds since 2011-2012 but in recent months, they have become key actors in the fight against IS and indeed one of the only few trusted groups of the US.

The Kurdish question in Turkey is intertwined by the fate of Kurds in Syria. There are strong connections across the border. This was evident at the mass protests at Turkish inaction over Kobane. The Kurdish struggle in Turkey moved stage to Syria.

Talk of military action has been running since 2012 but has grown in recent weeks; Turkey has a huge amount at stake with any invasion. It will confirm suspicions of sceptics who state that Turkey tolerates IS on its border but will now finally reinforce its border because the more moderate Kurds are making gains?

Any Turkish invasion will be far from plain sailing – Kurds, on both sides of the border, will not stay idle to any Turkish transgression. It will widen the already complicated Syrian war and will all but end the elusive Kurdish peace process in Turkey. PKK will certainly resume armed struggle in Turkey and in case Turkey attacks IS, this will bring great threat and instability to mainland Turkey. There are many permutations but they all end in more bloodshed and disaster.

International community will hardly welcome such a move when the Syrian landscape is already messy and complicated enough and indeed there will be strong jockeying in the background to ensure Turkey does not take such hasty steps.

Syrian Kurds too have their own red lines, they will not declare independence but they will certainly not give up their autonomous rule or allow any Turkish meddling or control of Syrian Kurdistan.

3-We know some Turks voted to HDP too as well as Kurds, How the Turks convinced vote to HDP? Do you think this is a sign of decrease Turkish nationalism sense or this is a sign of increasing pluralism in turkey? What is your assessment about the recent victory of HDP In turkey election?

HDP was successfully in attracting growing number of people who were disenchanted with AKP and who didn’t have the right national forum. A lot of these disillusioned liberals saw in HDP an opportunity to block Erdogan’s attempts to implement a strong presidential system, dilute what they saw as growing power and monopolisation of AKP and at the same time have a voice on the political stage. The HDP electorate also included large sections of minorities and of course large sections of Kurds who turned to HDP after previously voting for the AKP.

Although HDP won a respectable 13% of the vote, this is far from a statement that nationalism is decreasing. Nationalist parties continued to do well. Nationalists continue to be a thorn in the peace process and still dominate the political system in Turkey.

The fact this was the first time that a Kurds entered parliament as a party says it all. It is a significant historical milestone for the Kurds and provides a bridge between the long-time disaffected east and west of Turkey. 13% of the vote is not a meagre figure to be ignored in parliament and Kurds will have a direct influence on political and government affairs.

HDP’s gains can only be good for the Kurds but can also bring a sense of legality and national perspective to the Kurdish question. 80 MPs in parliament cannot be merely branded by the PKK brush – Turkish politics needs to mature beyond the age old narrow nationalist perspective i.e. any Kurdish PM is quickly labelled as a separatist or a PKK sympathiser.

HDP can serve as vital and legally enshrined interlocutors between the PKK and Ankara.

4-What is your assessment about the relation recent HDP victory in turkey’s election with PKK activities in the region? Can we expect the recent victory in turkey will be impact on power of PKK?

As mentioned earlier, the rise of HDP and their entry in parliament can give the peace process the right nation platform. Ocalan and most of the PKK have stated their readiness to convene a party congress with view to the giving up of arms. However, this will not happen without concrete steps been taken by the government – PKK will need to see firm actions and unfortunately, bowing to nationalist pressure, the future government will not easily cave in to demands from what they see as terrorists. HDP position in the political fold may help ensure that a more appealing reform package can be initiated – most Turks are in favour of ending bloodshed and the government must capitalise on a historic opening.

PKK will naturally see the HDP’s electoral success in a positive light but it doesn’t mean that PKK will drop their arms tomorrow just because HDP have broken the 10% threshold in parliament. HDP leadership has in turned made clear the real power to end the armed struggle and give up arms is in Imrali and not with them.

No doubt that HDP success brings a unique opportunity to further the peace process and should not be wasted. HDP can double the number of MPs in parliament, but if the PKK is not satisfied then the HDP influence can only stretch so far. Peace is not achieved by numbers in parliament but concrete actions.

5-What is the effect of HDP victory on Kurdish separatist sentiments in turkey and region? Will be weakened or strengthened?

This depends on the next steps. After breaking the age old constraints of the electoral threshold, the Kurds have a unique position in Turkish politics; especially that HDP now includes many Turkish voters within their ranks.

If the Kurdish region finally believes they have a voice in parliament, they are no longer side-lined, have better integration and can influence Ankara as national partners, then this can be a good sign for unity. Ultimately, the goal of local autonomy will not disappear especially if Kurds in south east increasingly speak with one voice.

If the HDP is somewhat side-lined or broken up under terrorism label as with previous party manifestations or the peace process unravels, as a result of the increased electoral power and not forgetting what events may take place in Syrian Kurdistan, then south east will drop further and further from Ankara’s grasp.

6-Do you think the increasing conflict between HDP and turkey hizbollah will be possible? What will be the relation between HDP and conservatives and religious Kurds in the future?

As the recent deadly shootings have shown in Diyarbakir, historic tension between PKK and Hezbollah supporters is in danger of escalating. The shootings were clear provocations designed to stir tension. The ramp up in tensions depends on how much restraint the parties can show and if they rise to the bait but I doubt it will reach a critical stage. No side will really benefit from such direct confrontation and no side really wants bloodshed to ensure.

HDP has already won significant votes from conservative and religions Kurds in the elections who traditionally voted for AKP. However, this is likely to continue as a key focus if HDP wants to grow in strength and represent a broader spectrum of the Kurdish voter base. AKP has used the religious card to successfully divide the Kurds in the past away from ethnic affiliations.

7-Some report showed that PYD have cooperation with Assad regime in Syria against isis. Don’t you think the US support Kurds in Syria is contradicting with the will of US for Assad falls? What will be impact of the support on the viewpoint of Syria government?

Such allegations of collaboration between PYD and Assad regime have been common place since the PYD took control of the Kurdish zones. But PYD and Assad regime relations have been more about mutual convenience than any real strategic pact. At a time when Syrian forces were already stretched, Assad wisely did not move to open a costly front with the Kurds. There have been various battles between the two sides but never on a systematic level.

At the same time, Syrian Kurds want control of their land and this is their first priority. They haven’t enjoyed great relations with FSA or Syrian National Coalition and attacking Assad forces to help FSA has not been an objective. Kurds have been weary of provoking Assad when they have already gained control of most Kurdish lands. The SNC has not been ready to commit to Kurdish demands in any post Assad era and Kurds have viewed the group with much suspicion. In many ways, it’s been a case of the devil you know for the Kurds than any real support or affiliation with the Assad regime.

US seeks political transition in Syrian and ultimately the fall of Assad but their bigger focus is on IS and not Assad. PYD goal is also a political transition in Syria and a new plural and inclusive constitution that enshrines their autonomy, and priority is not to prop up Assad. Don’t forget that PYD and Assad forces were in conflict long before Syrian civil war ensued.

PYD focus at the same time is IS and defence of their lands. Syrian Kurds are not tied to Assad regime and they will not fight to keep Assad in power.

8-What is relation between PKK and HDP? Demirtaş and Ocalan both are charismatic figures don’t you think in long time we will see conflict between two groups?

Many HDP members have travelled to Imrali and have previously played key roles in the Kurdish peace process. Of course, HDP have connections with the PKK but to say they are one and the same is too narrow minded.

HDP can be affective and legal interlocutors in the peace process. HDP can influence the PKK but ultimately it is not the HDP that decide PKKs next move on the peace process or whether they will give up arms, this power sits with Imrali.

It’s hard to compare the positons of Demirtaş and Ocalan – one is in parliament and one is an isolated prison. They are both significant leaders for the Kurds but from totally different perspectives and platforms.

There is always the possibility of disagreement between the PKK and HDP but by and large and through different means, they represent the same goal – enshrinement of Kurdish rights and bigger voice for the Kurds as national partners.

9-What do you think about the viewpoint of Kurdish peace negotiation prospect after victory of HDP? Do you think it will have a positive impact on negotiation? What do you think about possibility end Ocalan arrested?

The rise of HDP as a power in Turkish politics can only be a good thing for the peace process. This serves as an opportunity to bring the peace process onto a national and legal platform.

HDP have become the natural and legal interlocutors. 80 MPs in parliament can have a major voice on the direction of the peace process.

HDP can have a positive impact on the peace process but ultimately the real decision lies in Imrali. Under nationalist’s pressure, Erdogan toned down his stance towards the peace process and concessions towards the PKK – he became more hard-line.

PKK expects concrete steps from government and although the HDP can push to achieve these concrete steps, it really lies in the hands of Ankara. I don’t see Ocalan under house arrest let alone free, Turkish nationalist sentiment is far too narrow to allow the onset of such a phenomenon that will bring uproar to large sections of Turkish society.

10-What is your assessment about ROJAVA cantons and the performance? Do you think the Rojava can be a model for Kurds in other parts of the region? What are the strengths and weaknesses of ROJAVA in your opinion?

Rojava cantons and the establishment of a Kurdish Region of Syria was an unprecedented milestone for the Kurds in Syria, where previously hundreds of thousands of Kurds didn’t even have basic citizenship and rights let alone autonomous zones and new strategic importance in the region.

But Rojava autonomy is still in its infancy and hardly in the best surroundings with IS and deadly battles. What made the cantons unique was that it was in 3 geographically separate lands, until recently when Kurds took control of Tel Abyad.

Syrian autonomy needs to be backed by a cross party unity – too often the dozen or so Kurdish parties have been divided into pro KRG and pro PKK camps, with PYD dominating control of the cantons

The cantons have a long way to go but autonomous rule cannot be perfected in just a few years. The Syrian Kurds have much progress to make in their rule of their lands but this is hardly surprising. After decades of been side-lined, the current autonomous structure feels a lifetime away from previous repression and Arabisation of Kurdish lands.

It is the Kurdish Region of Iraq that really set the expectation and model of self-rule and not the Rojava cantons. Local autonomy is fast becoming a minimum expectation for Kurds across the region.

11-What is your assessment about the Assad regime reaction to Kurdish autonomy in Syria? Do you think Syria government will be grant autonomy to Kurds because their struggle against common enemy (isis)?

Assad needs Kurdish support, if not real political or military support, than at least that a new front is not opened. Assad’s forces are already stretched and granting Kurds autonomy is far easier than a suicidal new front against the Kurds. Assad has taken full advantage of the mistrust between Kurds and FSA\SNC.

Autonomy is a red-line for the Kurds and a small price for Assad to pay to maintain stability in the Kurdish areas and indeed his seat in power.

12-What do you think about impact of recent HDP victory in turkey and PYD in Syria on the Barzani –Talibani power in Iraq? Do you think HDP and PKK are threat against Autonomous Region of Kurdistan?

I don’t see the rise of HDP or the influence of PYD in Syria a threat to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The KRG and Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani would see the success of HDP as a historic and welcome milestone – they have encouraged the peace process in Turkey.

Barzani has personally worked hard for more cross-party unity in Syria with power sharing as per the Erbil agreement between the Syrian Kurdish parties. He would not want to see any PYD domination and other political parties, with many pro-KRG, been side-lined.

The red line for KRG is any meddling in Kurdistan Region internal affairs by PYD but especially PKK. As far as the KRG is concerned, it is not their zone of influence.

13-Some people said Kurds could not reach to recent successes without US supports in Iraq. What do you think about the arguments? What do you think about the possibility of establish a Shiite – Kurdish – US coalition against Isis in Iraq? Do you think the cooperation against Isis will be because more close Kurd – Shiite?

US support for the Kurds has been key but it is not so one dimensional. Ironically, the Kurds have often accused Washington of bias towards Baghdad. US have been obsessed with Iraqi unity and have avoided any actions that may be fuel a breakaway of Kurdistan from Iraq. Indeed on many occasions it has sided with Baghdad over the Kurds to promote the idea of a centralist rule in Iraq.

At the same time, the US relies heavily on Kurdish support against IS as it did against al-Qaeda a few years before that.

Iraq has been increasingly fractured as a state since 2003 and Baghdad policies especially under Nouri al-Maliki have not helped. In fact IS merely took full advantage of sectarian tensions and mass Sunni discontent. Many Sunni groups jumped on the IS bandwagon and notion of what is “IS” quickly become a grey area.

The KRG have been insistent that for any real struggle against IS to succeed, especially in Mosul, that local Sunni forces must have a bigger say. Kurds are keen to see an inclusive make up of Iraqi forces against IS.

Successive disputes with Maliki and now with Haider al-Abadi over national budget and oil exports has put a negative sentiment in the relations. The Kurds will not bail out Baghdad when it feels that Baghdad has consistently failed to deliver on its agreements and promises, has not paid its share of national budget and has not provided Kurds with needed weaponry even when the Kurds are at the centre of the war against IS.

Only a large Iraqi inclusive coalition will entice Kurds to fight in areas south of the Kurdistan borders.

14-What is your assessment about the possibility of establish a Kurdish state in Middle East? What is the obstacle in the way of this? Israel supported for Kurdistan state idea do you think the support of US and EU will be possible, too?

Establishing a Kurdish state has hardly been a secret for the Kurds and is also a goal of the Kurdistan leadership but it’s all about timing. A Kurdish state is inevitable and the Kurdistan Region is practically independent in all but name. If Kurds start selling oil directly en mass as retaliation for lack of budget payments from Baghdad than this removes the remaining noose Baghdad has over the region.

There is growing support for Kurdish independence in the EU and from many members of the US Senate and Congress but Washington will not directly support any Kurdish independence bid. It has reinforced the notion of a sovereign and united Iraq at every turn since 2003, when the Iraq state is anything but united or whole. US has spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives on a promoting principles of national reconciliation and unity that has never borne fruit.

Turkey has grown warmer to the idea of independence for the Kurdistan Region but will not support such a notion at a delicate time in the region and indeed at a sensitive juncture for the Kurds of Turkey and Syria.

Self-determination is a right that the Kurds will ultimately exercise and formal independence is only a question of when.

15-What do you think about recent Kurds victories on the regional equations? Do you think strengthen of Kurds can lead to essential changes in geographic and demographic in the region? What are the consequences for the region countries particularly Iran, turkey and Iraq? Do you think we should expect the change of borders in accordance with Sykes – Picot agreement?

The Kurds in Iraq are already major regional actors and the rise and prominence of the Kurdistan region in Iraq has been unprecedented. Kurds have become an important economic partner for Iran and particular Turkey and a stable and largely secular entity serves an important role in the fast unravelling and volatile Middle East.

At the same time, Kurds in Syria are enjoying new found prominence. Too often the Kurds were on the scrapheap of the Middle East thanks to large repressive campaigns and the arbitrary Sykes-Picot borders. Kurds are now a driving force in the new Middle East calculus.

Whilst the Sykes-Picot borders will not change overnight, in many ways the present era witnesses the rise of the Kurds. From the shackles to strategic players across the Middle East. The borders between the Kurdish regions in each country are slowly eroding.

The Kurds are a major factor for any long-term stability and peace in the Middle East – they simply cannot be ignored from Syria to Turkey to Iraq to Iran.

First Published: Shargh (Iran)

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As ISIS maneuverers to extinguish Yezidi and Christian communities around Mosul, it’s not only Iraqi borders at threat of vanishing

One of the unique features of Iraq was always its rich ethnic, religious and cultural diversity that spanned thousands of years and across multiple civilisations. Religious co-existence generally prevailed until the fall of Saddam and the rise of extremist groups.

The Christian community from the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Mandeans and various other sects have dwelled in the Nineveh plains for more than 1700 years with Nineveh itself a centre of many biblical prophets and events.

The Christian numbers dwindled from as high as 60,000 before the fall of Saddam Hussein to around 30,000 by June of this year.

On the hand, Yezidi Kurds, number over 300,000 and are one of the world’s old religious communities with roots in Zoroastrianism and a mix of other faiths.

Persecution of the Yezidi and Christian minorities over the past decade or so is not new with thousands driven out, murdered or faced with intimidation and threats.

However, the Christian and Yezidi fate took a new twist as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) came storming along in Iraq, changing not only the political and geographic makeup of Iraq but its religious framework.

In recent days, thousands of Yezidis were brutally killed and driven out of their homes as Sinjar was overrun, with thousands more stranded and dying of thirst and starvation in appalling conditions on Sinjar Mountain.

Vian Dakhil, a Yezidi MP, made a passionate plea as the human catastrophe intensified, “There is now a campaign of genocide being waged on the Yezidi…We are being slaughtered…” Thousands of Peshmerga were mobilised as part of an ongoing counter-offensive against ISIS positions.

In recent weeks, ISIS issued a “dhimma” by which Christians and other minorities were given the choices to convert to Islam or pay the “Jizya” protection fee, and in the event they refused “then there is nothing to give them but the sword”.

By noon deadline of the next day, Christians were flocking in the thousands to the safety of Kurdistan.

Patriarch Louis Sako told the AFP, “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” whilst emphasising that “this has never happened in Christian or Islamic history.”

In the past few weeks, ISIS has destroyed religious relics and buildings dating back thousands of years. One of those reportedly destroyed was the tomb of Jonah. History takes thousands of years to build but in the blink of an eye is forever destroyed.

From Sassanid Persian rule to rule under the Umayyads, Abbassid, Hamdanid dynasty, Seljuks, Persian Safawids and the Ottoman Empire, Christian and religious minorities have largely preserved their faith and communities.

Baghdad did little to offer the Christians and other minorities protection since 2003 and under the the latest wave of persecution against Yezidis and Christians, the West and Baghdad watch on as the Islamic State is carved in front of their eyes and religious minorities are driven out of their homes.

The West in particular could have done much more over the past several years to help alleviate the suffering of these communities. Now with yet another humanitarian crisis unfolding at the hands of ISIS with thousands of Yezidi’s under great danger, global powers cannot afford to sit idle.

“The world must act, speak out, consider human rights” warned Chaldean Catholic Bishop Shlemon Warduni.

Indeed, Christian persecution is not new, but the recent events finally caught global attention. With ISIS gunmen now occupying Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in Iraq, the plight of the Christian community there cannot be ignored. The question now is whether widespread condemnation will be met with any real action or international response on the ground.

Expressing grave concern, Pope Francis in his weekly public prayers decried the plight of the Christians, “Today they are persecuted. Our brothers are persecuted. They’ve been driven away. They must leave their homes without being able to take anything with them.”

With its own rich history, Kurdistan has always been a sanctuary for minorities and a symbol of religious and ethnic co-existence. It is the duty to protect any human, regardless of religion or ethnicity when they are faced with death and repression especially when they come running to you as men of understanding, compassion and protection. However, Kurdistan cannot shoulder the burden alone with ISIS becoming anything but a local crisis and now a grave global concern.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani vowed the full support and resources of his government resources to help the displaced families, and asked “the people of Dohuk and Erbil provinces to rush to help the displaced Christian families.”

Barzani appealed for international help to support the ever growing number of refugees in Kurdistan.

Barzani added, “We also encourage them to support the KRG in order to increase its relief efforts and be able to properly assist these families in times of crises.”

Meanwhile, Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani made a passionate pledge to the fleeing Christians,  “We will all either die together or we will live together with dignity.” Barzani also vowed to “defend Shingal and our Yezidi brothers and sisters.”

Rather than attempts at halting the drive towards Kurdish independence, on the contrary the West should support a new Kurdish state that not only will finally give the Kurds a well-deserved and long-denied homeland, but would afford unique protection and preservation of minorities and age-old history.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Amidst sectarian flames, Iraqi security and marginalisation policies should be in the limelight, not Kurdish oil exports

As the Islamic State (IS) with the help of several Iraqi Sunni groups waltzed into Iraq seizing large swathes of territory, the goalposts in Iraq completely changed. Iraq as we know it ceased to exist.

Yet amidst the grave crisis in Iraq that Iraqi forces have failed to extinguish, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seemed more intent to turn focus away from the security nightmare and to increase the already wide gaps in the relations with the Kurds into an unsurmountable gulf.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad have been at loggerheads for years over control of oil including revenue sharing and oil exports, however, matters took extra significance with IS breaking the status-quo.

Baghdad has threatened foreign companies dealing with KRG over oil for many years, but this has not stopped oil majors flocking to the region. Last month, Baghdad issued yet another statement threatening legal action against such foreign companies  “Any company that deals with or handles the cargo, we will not deal with it…Any discharge authorities, any port authorities, any party at all dealing with the cargo coming from Kurdistan without approval from the federal government, the oil ministry will take action with them.”

Only this week, the United Kalavrvta tanker, carrying 1 million barrels of oil, was anchored in international waters off the port of Galveston, Texas, after Baghdad launched a petition to a US court to seize the oil.

The US judge could not take any action as it lacked jurisdiction. In the meantime, the KRG launched its own counter legal proceedings to the Texas court warning “There is no merit whatsoever to the allegations of the Ministry of Oil; to the contrary, it is the federal government of Iraq that has acted wrongfully and that will have to answer to the KRG’s substantial counter-claims.”

KRG Minister of Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami, further warned “The federal government cannot win, because our crude is legally produced, shipped, exported, and sold in accordance with the rights of the Kurdistan Region as set forth in the Iraqi constitution.”

After Baghdad threatened foreign companies with legal action for dealing with Kurdish crude, a determined KRG had threatened to sue buyers of Iraqi oil on the basis that they are complicit in violating the Iraqi constitution with Baghdad failing to pay the KRG share of the budget.

Meanwhile, in light of the latest dispute, the United States has maintained the same out- dated rhetoric. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated “Our policy certainly has not changed; we believe that Iraq’s energy resources belong to the Iraqi people and certainly have long stated that it needs to go through the Iraqi government.”

Even as Iraq has unravelled before their eyes, the US has clung to an outdated belief in the unity of Iraq without judging the disputes between the KRG and Baghdad in its historic context and the changing realities on the ground.

Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department, Marie Harf, recently stated “There is no US ban on the transfer or sale of oil originated from any part of Iraq…Our policy on this issue has been clear, Iraq’s energy resources belong to all of the Iraqi people. These questions should be resolved in a manner consistent with the Iraqi constitution.”


The US one-sided policy that favours Baghdad in the hope of preventing the collapse of Iraq, fails to acknowledge that the Iraqi Hydrocarbon law has been gathering dust on the Iraqi political shelves since 2007. Furthermore, fundamental articles in the same Iraqi constitution that US constantly refers to have been ignored or neglected since 2005.

The Iraqi constitution does not need to be negotiated, only implemented and the US should support the Kurdish view as they have not gone beyond the legal terms stated in the constitution and it is Baghdad that has been unlawfully withholding the KRG budget entitlement.

The key question remains, what resolution over oil rights can be applied between the KRG and Baghdad after years of disputes and protracted negotiations? Kurdistan cannot remain idle with no funds for months upon end waiting for sentiment to change in Baghdad.

The disputes have been hastened by IS  but it often gets overlooked in international circles that the Kurdish share of the national budget, that Kurds allege now amount to $7 billion, have not been paid since January.

Tankers carrying Kurdish crude at times receive coverage like it is exported via the black market. This is the same crude that is pumped via official pipelines to the port of Ceyhan with full support of Turkey.

This is the same crude that would see Baghdad receive a lions-share (83%) under the terms of the constitution.  The matter is not a lack of revenue for Baghdad but the strengthening of the Kurdish hand with their new independent oil infrastructure and economic self-sufficiency.

The buyer of Kurdish crude becomes the object of much controversy and mystery, which is especially ironic giving that Iraq, is engulfed in sectarian flames and since it was same marginsational policies that Maliki attempts on the Kurds that reignited the latest Sunni insurgency.

In a blow to the KRG, LyondellBasell, recently confirmed that it had purchased the oil off Texas but would not accept delivery of the contested cargo. Their statement fell in line with the rhetoric of Washington, “We have cancelled further purchases and will not accept delivery of any of the affected crude until the matter is appropriately resolved.”

However, ultimately as more oil tankers are prepared for shipping, the Kurds will not back down and export Kurdish crude cannot be halted. The road ahead will have its own fair share of bumps, but when the Iraqi constitution is judged on its own merits, not just on the basis of Baghdad threats and the economic embargo on Kurdistan by Baghdad is taken into account, even the US will fail to justify its actions against Kurdish oil exports.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Is it Time for Rojava and Kurdistan to Unite against Common Enemy?

Whilst the Islamic State (IS/ISIS) was propelled into the limelight in spectacular manner in Iraq, controlling Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of territory across Iraq, for the Kurds of Syria their deadly battles with the al-Qaeda offshoot over the past year or so have largely failed to make headlines.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) has ubiquitously engaged in furious battles against IS militiamen across the areas in Syria under Kurdish control. Those Kurdish areas are of strategic importance, as they straddle the Turkish border — and with it some of the most vital border crossings — and are home to some of Syria’s largest oil fields.

Conversely, the battle of the Peshmerga forces in Iraq has been well noted, as they have formed a formidable frontier against IS rebels, all but saving Kirkuk and many other cities from falling to the IS, which recently changed its name from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In the same manner as the Peshmerga, the YPG should be acknowledged for its vital role in keeping IS at bay in Syria.

Fresh from their gains in Iraq, a buoyant IS has returned to Syria with a new onslaught on Kobane and other Kurdish towns and villages. However, this time the goalposts have shifted. Armed with significant booty from their Iraq conquests, including Humvees, tanks and artillery — not to mention millions of dollars in funds – IS quickly shifted their guns to the Syrian Kurds once more.

According to Jabar Yawar, secretary general of the Peshmerga ministry, “ISIS has different types of rockets, tanks and other heavy weaponry that they got from the Iraqi army and now they use these weapons to attack Kobane.”

Faced with a barrage of attacks on Kobane from different sides, Kurdish forces have fervently confronted IS forces; but they will ultimately struggle under inferior firepower.  The co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muslim, warned that IS now possesses “heavy weaponry like mortars and tanks, which concerns our forces. We can’t use our weapons against their bulletproof tanks.”

Furthermore, Syrian Kurds have complained at lack of humanitarian aid over the past couple of years and have been hampered under the cautious eyes of Ankara.  YPG spokesperson Redur Xalil called on the international community to “intervene immediately and carry out their duty toward Kobane.”

The Syrian Kurds freed themselves from decades of tyranny and repression and announced self-rule across three cantons. But lack of political unity between the main PYD party and other political parties threaten the existence of the administration in the midst of increasing danger.

The situation has not been helped with lukewarm relations between the PYD and the Kurdistan Region leadership.

There could be no better time for the Kurds to unite and protect the Kurdish population in Syria and also preserve hard-fought Kurdish self-rule. IS is not just an internal matter for the Syrian Kurds: What happens there is very much a problem for the Iraqi Kurds.

Because if Kobane and other major Kurdish cities fall, the IS gets even stronger. That is not good for Erbil, which is also somewhere on the IS priority list of enemies to annul.

For Abdul-Salam Ahmed, co-chair of PYD, Kobane was effectively becoming a factor to “the end of the Sykes-Picot agreement,” the 1916 pact by which the powers of the time redrew the Ottoman Empire borders, essentially dividing the Kurds in the process. Whilst rallying Kurdish unity, Kurdish veteran politician Ahmet Turk emphasized that there is no difference between Kobane and Kirkuk.

PYD head Muslim warned that the unity of the three cantons and ultimately the Syrian Kurdish autonomous region itself depends on Kobane, which he labeled as the “symbol of the Kurds’ identity and resistance.”  He urged Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani to join a common struggle against the Islamic militants, claiming that Barzani “had not fully grasped the nature of ISIS.”

Whilst the Kurdish Region edges towards independence, the importance of a stable, secure and prosperous Kurdistan Region of Syria as a key neighbor cannot be discounted.

To this effect, the Syrian Kurds, who have already imposed compulsory military service, have tried to rally Kurds in Iraq and particularly Turkey. Gharib Haso, an official from the PYD, claimed that “Young Kurds from all parts of Kurdistan are going to Syria.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdul Rahman stated that at least 800 Kurdish fighters had crossed the Turkish border into Syria to join the battle.

“It’s a life-or-death battle for the Kurds. If ISIS takes Ayn al Arab (Kobane), it will advance eastwards toward other Kurdish Syrian areas, such as Hasakah in the northeast,” he warned.

The ultimate success of greater Kurdistan rests with all its four parts. There is no better place to start than with a political alliance amongst Kurdish parties in Syria and the fostering of better ties between the Rojava administration and the Kurdistan Region.

First Published On: Rudaw

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

A Marriage of Convenience: The Many Faces of Iraq’s Sunni Insurgency

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have stolen the limelight, but the current Sunni insurgency in Iraq is dominated by a number of Sunni groups, with ISIS forming possibly less than a third of rebel forces. Each group has its own reason and motivation for siding with ISIS, but far from sharing ideology or a common end goal, the main binding factor is hatred of the Shiite government and Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki (Middle East Monitor, June 17; Rudaw [Erbil], July 7).

The key to ousting ISIS and arriving at a peaceful solution ultimately lies in the hands of the Sunni tribes and the local Sunni population, not in the guns of the Shiites. It was the Sunnis that turned the tide against al-Qaeda once before, but wary Sunnis may not bail out Baghdad so easily again. The danger now after 11 years of bloodshed and Sunni marginalization is that Baghdad may find it impossible to resurrect the notion of a united Iraq, let alone heal the gulf of sectarian mistrust and animosity.

A number of the Sunni armed groups currently fighting Baghdad are remnants of the previous insurgency against U.S. occupation. Many of these groups have formed alliances and grown in strength since the revitalized Sunni uprising evolved from popular protests at the end of 2012 to renewed armed conflict and sectarian war. Indeed for this reason, many Sunni tribal leaders discount ISIS as the spark of the revolution and accuse them of taking advantage by jumping on the Iraqi Sunni bandwagon.

  • · General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries (GMCIR)

One of the main groups that fought alongside ISIS is the GMCIR. This group was formed in early 2014 from an alliance of various other military councils or tribal revolutionary groups with the aim of establishing a unified command as a result of renewed fighting with Baghdad (al-Ahram Weekly[Cairo], March 20). The GMCIR includes a large number of former officers of the disbanded Iraqi army and has the general aim of establishing a Sunni autonomous entity without compelling any break-up of Iraq. The group is associated with the Muslim Scholars’ Association led by the influential Shaykh Harith Sulayman al-Dhari. GMCIR has an uneasy cooperation with ISIS that saw large areas of northern Iraq slip from the control of Baghdad, but differences between the groups are discernible in their approach to governance in Mosul and the issue of ISIS’ dominant role on the ground (al-Akhbar[Beirut], June 16).

Days after the occupation of Mosul, GMCIR spokesman and former general Muzhir al-Qaisi described ISIS as “barbarians” (BBC, June 14). Distancing themselves from ISIS’ extremist ideology, the GMCIR has tried to emphasize a non-sectarian agenda and a political solution to the crisis.

  • · Military Council of the Tribal Revolutionaries (MCTR)

The MCTR is the largest non-ISIS force and is believed to include a coalition of approximately 80 Sunni Arab tribes and 41 armed groups, including former officers from the Saddam era. Its presence is especially strong in Fallujah, Ramadi and parts of Nineweh and Salahuddin (al-Araby al-Jadid [Beirut], June 14).

  • · Military Council of Anbar Tribal Revolutionaries (MCATR)

One of the main military councils, the MCATR was formed in early 2014 (Journal of Turkish Weekly, June 25). The MCATR has pressed the remaining Sahwa (Awakening) forces to fight for their cause – many of the groups that comprise MCATR today relinquished their Sahwa allegiance after key demands were not fulfilled by al-Maliki and the prime minister ordered a violent crackdown of sit-in protestors. However, in the battles for Ramadi and Fallujah earlier this year, it was clear that remnants of the Sahwa forces battled insurgents on the side of the government.

Shaykh Hatim al-Sulayman is the leader of the MCATR and chief of the powerful Dulaim tribe in Ramadi (with significant influence in Anbar). The Dulaim tribe, including the al-Bou Nimr, al-Farraj, al-Bou Issa and al-Fallaha sub-tribes as well as gunmen from the al-Jamilat, al-Jabour and al-Janabat clans, has played a central role in the uprising since last year (Al-Monitor, January 8).

Al-Sulayman, like many other tribal leaders, is hardly full of praise for ISIS but sees al-Maliki as more dangerous. Pointing out various disagreements with ISIS, he signalled that the inevitable fight against ISIS was merely postponed (Rudaw [Erbil], July 7). For al-Sulayman, ISIS came only to take advantage of the Sunni revolution and their quest to win back Sunni rights.

  • · Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshabandia (JRTN – Army of the Men of the Naqshabandi Path)

Another major group, with particular influence in the provinces of Nineweh and Kirkuk, is the JRTN, which has a close alliance with the GMCIR. The JRTN, spearheaded by Saddam Hussein’s former deputy, Izzat al-Douri, is based on a mix of old Ba’athist pan-Arab secular nationalism and Naqshabandi Sufi Islam (see Terrorism Focus, July 28, 2008).

The goals of the JRTN are the return to power of the Ba’ath party and the safeguarding of Iraqi sovereignty through the simultaneous end of the strong Iranian influence in Baghdad. Their key aim is to “fight for the unity of Iraq’s land and people to preserve the Arab and Islamic identity.” [1]

  • · Al-Jaysh al-Islami fi’l-Iraq (JII – Islamic Army of Iraq)

The JII was particularly potent at the height of the initial uprising against U.S. military occupation (Telegraph, June 20). The movement went from being a thorn in the side of the Americans to being a key player in the Sunni Sahwa (Awakening) councils that turned the tide against al-Qaeda before later turning full circle by re-joining the anti-Baghdad insurgency.

Shaykh Ahmad al-Dabash, founder of the Islamic Army of Iraq and an influential imam from the Batawi family, is determined to accept nothing less than the removal of al-Maliki and has noted his movement’s common interest with ISIS in removing the Shiite prime minister (al-Sharq al-Awsat, June 27). Its demands, like those made by the majority of Sunni groups, include a political solution to the ongoing crisis, the establishment of a Sunni federal region and the removal of al-Maliki.

  • · Jama’at Ansar al-Islam (JAI)

JAI is a jihadist group from the post-2003 era that shares the general ISIS goal of a caliphate, but rejects a leading role for ISIS in an Islamic state (BBC, July 1).

  • · Jaysh al-Mujahideen (JAM)

JAM is another group that dates back to the early post-Saddam era with an anti-Shiite agenda and the goal of overthrowing the central government (BBC, July 1). It is known to have disagreements with ISIS and the Islamic Army of Iraq.

  • · Kata’ib Thawarat al-Ashrayn (KTA – 1920 Revolution Brigades)

Named for an anti-British nationalist uprising during the British mandate in Iraq, the 1920 Revolution Brigades is a lesser known Sunni militia originally formed in 2005 to fight the American occupation (al-Jazeera, June 27).

There is a growing unease between Sunni tribes and ISIS. ISIS recently executed 30 people, including a tribal leader and his son, after they refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and pay “royalties” (Shafaq News [Erbil], July 10).

Most of the Sunni groups have insisted that they are in control of key areas and facilities and have pushed back ISIS where necessary. For example, the Islamic Army of Iraq prevented ISIS from entering Dulu’iya after they took control of it due to ideological differences between the movements (al-Arabiya [Dubai], June 11). Al-Maliki has tried to manipulate Sunni tribal anxiety by encouraging Arab tribal leaders in northern areas to fight ISIS (BasNews [Erbil], July 8). There have been skirmishes between these tribes and ISIS militants but for any real impact on the ground Sunnis must turn against ISIS in much greater numbers.

What is clear, however, is the increasing tension between former the Ba’ath party, JRTN factions and ISIS. These groups have already been involved in deadly clashes in the Kirkuk area with reports of JRTN assassination campaigns against ISIS leaders in the Diyala region (al-Sumaria [Baghdad], June 22; Shafaq News [Erbil] July 9). There are other reports of generalized clashes between tribal forces and ISIS in Mosul, Salahuddin and in other areas (al-Mustakbal [Baghdad], July 12; al-Estiqama [Baghdad], July 11).

With so many groups and varying end games, the danger of Sunni infighting can only grow. Furthermore, the more Sunni groups in the field, the more difficult it becomes to establish a negotiating partner. Sunni tribes have to find a solution to ISIS, but are more likely to deal with that problem when al-Maliki is removed from power and a Sunni region is endorsed under an agreement. Either way, Sunni tribes have learned their lesson from the disappointments of the first Awakening initiative and Sunni support to expel ISIS or offer Baghdad any respite will not come cheap this time around.

First Published On: The Jamestown Foundation

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Unsatisfied with a raging war with Sunni militants, Maliki launches new front against the Kurds

Relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad were already at a historical low. Yet for those who thought that ties could not get any worse, a series of events last week saw the line redrawn.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a fierce attack on the Kurds on national television, warning “We will not resort to silence while Erbil is a headquarters for Isis, Ba’athists, al-Qaeda and terrorists.”

Such strong remarks drew the inevitable ire of the Kurdish leadership, with Kurdish MP’s soon boycotting the Iraqi parliament with Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani hitting back at a Maliki who he deemed to have become “hysterical” and “lost his balance” and who he urged to stand down.

The Kurds have frequently warned that a third-tenure as Prime Minister for Maliki would signal curtains on Iraq.

On Friday, Kurds moved to secure the strategic oil fields in Bai Hassan and the Makhmour area to defend the oil infrastructure from what the Kurds deemed “politically motivated sabotage.”

KRG Ministry of Natural Resources released a statement confirming the Kurds had “moved to secure the oil fields after learning of orders by officials in the federal Ministry of Oil in Baghdad to sabotage the recent mutually-agreed pipeline infrastructure linking the Avana dome with the Khurmala field.”

A furious Baghdad had already gone as far as banning cargo flights to Kurdistan and even moved to halt international flights. At the same time it replaced Hoshiyar Zebari as Foreign Minister with Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani.

The escalating rhetoric and tit-for-tat moves would be bad enough in any normal day in Iraq with Baghdad and Erbil governments bordering each other.

Anyone observing last weeks would be forgiving for thinking that the Iraqi problem is limited to the Kurds and the Maliki government. Yet there is a not so small dilemma of an Islamist State in the middle.

Over a month since Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of territory was taken over by ISIS led Sunni insurgents, Iraq is gripped in violence. Despite military aid from Russia and Iran, Iraqi forces have largely failed to dislodge the militants.

While the militants have not made advances, what they have done is essentially entrench their new borders and with it Iraq’s partition into 3 separate entities.

The Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been involved in fierce battles with ISIS militants, filling a crucial security vacuum and housing hundreds of thousands of refugees. But it seems that Baghdad is intent on creating more enemies in the midst of a deadly sectarian war.

The sharp escalation of tensions between Kurds and Baghdad may jeopardise Kurdish support against ISIS – why battle insurgents and risk lives for a premier that is essentially accusing you of collaborating with them anyway?

Ironically, it was the Kurdistan Region that once protected a Maliki on the run from Saddam Hussein. Shiites at the time fought Saddam against centrist Sunni repression and many sought to establish an Islamic state at the time akin to Tehran. In 2014, the tables have merely turned with Sunnis on the attack.

In the midst of tension between Kurds and a raging sectarian war, the Iraq political chambers are getting increasingly empty. August 12th is the new date set to reconvene parliament, why such a laboured political process if there is real intent to heal national rifts and at a time of national emergency?

Unless Maliki steps down and a reconciliatory stance is adopted in Baghdad, the Kurds will assume the next gear in their independence drive.

Baghdad authorities may be furious with the Kurds but then what repercussion is left to hit the Kurds? Oil exports were already halted, share of national budget withheld, no government exists, Kurds stripped of ministries, and cargo flights are suspended.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Latest Sunni insurgency threatens to put final nail in the Iraqi coffin

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have continued to assume centre stage with more towns and borders crossings falling in dramatic fashion.  However, the lines have been blurred between a Salafist-Jihadist and a Iraqi Sunni insurgency. It is no longer acts of terrorism on show. This is a powerful, motivated and determined force that will be hard to extinguish without major concessions to the long disenfranchised Sunni minority.

Influential Sunni tribes do not approve of the extremist ideology of ISIS but their disapproval with Shiite rule particularly under Nouri al-Maliki is much greater.

In the meantime Shiite militias parade the streets of Baghdad in a show of force with thousands more joining the battle against the Sunni insurgency pumped up by their spiritual leaders.

As Iraq slides into sectarian anarchy and inevitable partition, the future of Iraq as an integrated nation is looking increasing bleak.

Sunni insurgent revival

In 2008, the Islamic State of Iraq (as it was known at the time) in a leaked communication deemed itself as being in a state “extraordinary crisis”. So how did a diminishing Islamist movement regain such ascendancy in Iraq?

Although, the widely acclaimed surge strategy of US president George W. Bush is credited with largely defusing the sectarian civil war in Iraq, it was the establishment of the Sahwa or Awakening Council’s that really turned the tide.

Influential Sunni tribes, fed up with violence and al-Qaeda dominance, turned against the movement. This was not going to come cheap and the Sunnis expected a larger share of political cake, integration of the Sahwa militias into official forces and decentralisation of power. This was a unique opportunity for Baghdad to solidify gains but was missed.

Today, Sunni sentiment is hardly different to that of 2003 or at the height of the original Sunni insurgency. Long the rulers of Iraq, the Sunnis suddenly played second fiddle to the Shiites by virtue of the fact that Shiites had higher numbers.

The simple fact remains, just as the Kurds will never succumb to been ruled by Baghdad, the Sunnis will never accept rule under Shiites.

Even if the US and Iranians supported the Baghdad government and quelled the Sunni uprising. Another one will simply spring up. You can cut the branches of the Sunni resistant but without addressing the root it will never vanish.

This branch is ultimately the division of Iraq into 3 autonomous components.

Sectarianism in Iraq is hardly new and dates back many centuries. The public especially the youth, are particularly influenced by religious leaders such as Moqtada al-Sadr and influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Indeed, it isn’t an “Iraqi” fightback that is holding off ISIS on the doorsteps of Baghdad but a Shiite one.

The influence of spiritual leaders and Fatwas was clearly on display as truckloads of young Shiite volunteers heeded Sistani’s call to resist.

The fact that Iraqi security forces numbering in the hundreds of thousands needed to be rescued by militias tells its own story about sectarian allegiance.

Iraq vs. terrorism or Shiites vs. Sunnis?

The US has hesitated to intervene realising that as former US commander in Iraq, David Patreus, warned it is effectively the Shiites that they will be siding with, thus further adding fuel to the fire.

Sistani in a recent statement urged on the creation of “an effective government” and one “that enjoys broad national acceptance [and] that reverses past mistakes.” This was a thinly veiled reference to the failings of Maliki marginalisation policies.

From an initial Shiite call for resistance, a more cautious Sistani is now insisting on an Iraqi identity by putting “all Iraqis on the same level” to stand against the insurgency.

The danger is that after 11 years of bloodshed and marginalisation, can Baghdad muster the notion of a common “Iraqi”?

For that to happen, the real influence is in the hands of the Sunni tribes and the local Sunni population not in the guns of the Shiites.

The Sunnis drove out al-Qaeda once and conceivably can do to the same to ISIS, but why should they? A loose alliance of ISIS militiaman, armed local tribes and ex-Baathists has a common goal and at least for now can serve the goals of each other.

If the Sunni tribes ousted ISIS, what guarantee is there that this time Baghdad will take heed and implement their demands? At the same time, by losing ISIS, the Sunnis risk losing the spear to their arrow.

Sunni tribal influences

The Sunnis are composed of a number of influential tribes including Dulaim, Shamma, al-Jaburi, the Ubaydis, the ‘Azza and the al-Bu Nasir.

The founder of the Islamic Army of Iraq, Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, and influential imam from the Batawi family and for many years a thorn in the side of US, acknowledged in a recent interview that thousands of his men are participating in the ISIS-led insurgency.

al-Dabash, whose demands like many other tribal leaders will not stop short of an autonomous Sunni region,  stated “Is it possible that a few hundred Isis jihadists can take the whole of Mosul?…No. All the Sunni tribes have come out against Maliki. And there are parts of the military, Baathists from the time of Saddam Hussein, clerics, everyone came out for the oppression that we have been suffering.”

Other tribal leaders have joined the fray in outlining their position.

The leader of the political wing of the Tribal Revolutionary Council, Sheikh Zaydan al Jabiri, in a similar vain to al-Dabash doesn’t endorse ISIS ideology but highlighted their common enemy, the Shiite dominated government

Ali Hatim Al-Suleiman, an emir of the Dulaim tribe echoed the sentiment of other tribal leaders, “It is the tribal rebels who are in control of the situation in Mosul. It is not reasonable to say that a group like ISIS, which has a small number of men and vehicles, could be in control of a large city like Mosul. Therefore, it is clear that this is a tribal revolution, but the government is trying to force us all to wear the robe of the terrorists and ISIS.”

Sheikh Khamis Al Dulaimi, a tribal leader in the Anbar Military Council of Tribal Revolutionaries, exclaimed “This is a revolution against the unfairness and marginalization of the past 11 years.”

A common them among these tribal leaders is their fear of ISIS and Sheikh Bashar al-Faidhi, Association of Muslim Scholars, was no different, “We’re terrified of them. They are a problem. But we have to have priorities.”

The tribal leaders were the key to recent snow-balling of ISIS influence and they are the key to any move to oust ISIS.

Growing sectarian divide since 2003

Animosity, hatred, fanaticism and revenge are a vicious cycle that is hard to break. The sectarian bloodshed since 2003 will be hard to ever heal let alone the deep history that entrenches the divide.

Passions are so high that even the slightest damage to any Shiite shrine will see the battle morph into all-out war (not to mention thousands of enraged Iranians joining any bloodbath). Just look at the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra in 2006 to see the 2 years of sectarian mayhem it unleashed.

Many of the youth, who are in now in their teens, grew up in a cycle of sectarian terror. It is these youth than joined the ranks of Shiite militias such as that of the Mehdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr and vehemently opposed US occupation.

Indeed, the sectarian landscape has changed immensely since 2003.

One look at makeup of the neighbourhood of Baghdad tells its own story. The city has segregated greatly along religious and to a lesser extent ethnic divisions.

The continuous demarcation of ethnic and sectarian divisions across Iraq put into focus the only real solution – Iraq’s breakup. Even then, sectarian and ethnic cleansing in such a scenario will run rife.

Shiite insurgencies in the past

The Sunni insurgencies against Baghdad are in some ways not too dissimilar to Shiite insurgencies against Sunni ruled Baghdad. Al-Da’wa al-Islamiyah (the Islamic Call), was established in 1967 by Shia clergy and activists against the Baathist rule.

The Da’wa was a revolutionary movement with the goal of creating an Islamic state in Iraq and fought through its al-Badr Brigade. Grand ayatollah Muahhamd Sadeq al-Sadr and his two sons including Muqtada al Sadr’s father and elder brothers were killed in 1999. It’s no secret which events Moqtada drew his anger.

However, in a similar way to how Sunnis were originally appeased to fight al-Qaeda, sometimes the bonds of tribal affiliation are older and stronger than religious affiliation, and Shiite tribes were affectively influenced to protect border regions in the Iran-Iraq war.

Ultimately, religious passions do not rule the head or heart of every Sunni or Shiites. But with lack of jobs, inclusion in society and government and a bleak future, a lot of Iraqis have little to hold onto.

First Published On: Rudaw

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the seeds of Sunni insurgency were sown long before ISIS came to town

Does the US bail out Maliki, who ignored frequent US push for national reconciliation?

The dramatic and rapid advance by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have caught many by surprise but it was a long time in the making.

The seeds of the sectarian mess that has gripped and paralysed Iraq were sown long before a few thousand ISIS militiamen scored mighty gains against an Iraqi force multiples of its size.

An increasingly desperate Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, sought US airstrikes as the ISIS militants’ arrived at the doorsteps of Baghdad and now after initially successful counter-attacks the Iraqi forces are struggling to dislodge rebels from the symbolic town of Tikrit.

Does a US who has seen Baghdad pay lip service to their frantic attempts to promote national reconciliation and enticing of the Sunnis into the political fold for the past several years, bail out Maliki?

Even then, are US bailing out the Shiites against the Sunnis, or Iraqis against Islamists?

The US congress apprehension in taking action when policies of Maliki and Baghdad have stoked sectarian fires tells its own story. They hesitated to take military action in Syrian, even with thousands dead, a raging sectarian slaughter and even use of chemical weapons. It seems highly ironic that they jump in to rescue a Baghdad who deemed unnecessary to have even a residual US force upon US withdrawal in Iraq and who brought this mess upon themselves.

Sunni militants were already in effective control of Fallujah, large parts of Ramadi and the Anbar province since the turn of the year and always threatened to expand their campaign.

From the onset of the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. had an obsession of building a democratic, pluralistic, sovereign and inclusive Iraq. Reinforcing the unity of Iraq or indeed that of national reconciliation have been frequent themes that saw the US invest trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

It is no surprise that US President Barrack Obama, in weighing up ways to counter the swift ISIS and Sunni militant drive towards Baghdad, emphasised the political measures and national reconciliation that must accompany any US support.

Such a line is no different to that of former US President George W. Bush who on condition of the greater surge strategy in 2007-2008, set a number of benchmarks for the Iraqi government. Amongst such benchmarks were a representative national government, a national hydrocarbon law, provincial powers and above all national reconciliation that can entice the disenfranchised Sunni’s into the political fold.

Such US wishes often proved illusionary and were never implemented on the ground.

It is not the first time that key cities such as Mosul and Fallujah and large parts of the volatile Anbar region are in the hands of the Sunni militants. Indeed ISIS may have gained strength from the Syrian war but the birth of ISIS has roots in the original insurgency in Iraq.

Furthermore, the media coverage may be dominated by ISIS, but many other Sunni rebel groups and Baathists have bolstered the current advance. It’s hard to believe that a force of a few thousand rebels can make such rapid progress without local support and sympathy on the ground.

While Bush’s surge strategy was credited with ending the bloody insurgency that crippled Iraq, ironically it was the Sunnis themselves that were at the forefront of driving out al-Qaeda through Sunni Sahwa councils established at the time.

Arming the Sahwa councils were akin to a ticking time bomb and the support of key Sunni tribes was expected to be matched with real concessions from Baghdad, including a bigger slice of the political cake, the inauguration of the Sunni militias into the Iraqi security forces and ultimately an overhaul of the constitution.

A relative lull in sectarianism was not matched by practical steps to entice and appease the Sunnis and centralist tendencies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slowly drove a larger wedge between the Sunnis and Shiites with a shaky coalition government soon falling apart.

Maliki’s second term in particular saw many key Sunni figures sidelined or exiled from the political fold further antagonising moderate Sunnis

Iraqi forces may be large on paper but are often viewed with great suspicion by the Sunnis and deemed as Shiite dominated with sectarian agendas. It is not for a lack of training or firepower that they wilted away, those Iraqi forces simply didn’t have the stomach for the fight in Sunni heartlands. Any Sunnis within those forces did not want to stand in the way of a new Sunni ascendancy.

Sectarianism breeds loyalty in Iraq and ISIS will face a completely different picture in Baghdad and Shiite strongholds.

Much like the general Sunni sentiment that drove al-Qaeda out of the Sunni neighbourhoods at the height of the insurgency, it is not that all Sunnis welcome ISIS or endorse their tactics or ideology. But for many their despise of the central government and Maliki is greater.

After decades of power, Sunnis were suddenly frozen out in 2003 and affectively played second fiddle to the Shiite majority and this is a fact that most Sunnis still fail to stomach.

The US simply could not comprehend the fierce rivalry and sectarian passion that underpinned the gulf between the factions in Iraq. Sectarian animosity lasting hundreds of years cannot be healed in a matter of years.

US obsession with the unity of Iraq aside, Iraq was a fractured society and a divided state from the first moment it was stitched together artificially.

Iraq had a de-facto partition into three state lets since 2003, with the Kurds enjoying near independence in the north, the Shiites control of the south and with the Sunnis in the west. The only difference was that while the Kurdish partition and Shiite dominated Baghdad and the south had political power and economic clout, the Sunni side didn’t.

ISIS looks to change all that with a more powerful Sunni region that stretches not only in Iraq but well beyond the borders of Syria and with it key oil producing areas.

The US can intervene, Iraqi forces can launch a fierce counter offensive or the Iranian revolutionary guards can add their weight to the battle but like a yo-yo that has already plagued the sectarian divide, the Sunni headache will not go away. The branches can be cut but as we have seen through a number of Sunni insurgencies since 2003, the root firmly remains intact.

If Iraq saw a soft-partition into 3 federal entities as many in Washington and the international community deemed as the only solution at the time of US occupation, and away from the fixation of elusive national unity, there would have been a greater chance of fostering a more moderate Sunni slice.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The time to push for independence?

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein and particularly in the latest sectarian storm as ISIS has swept through large parts of northern Iraq, many in the international arena point to the carving up and disintegration of Iraq. However, from a Kurdish perspective, it is a question of how can you break something that wasn’t whole to start with?

It is no secret that the dreams of the Kurds have always started and finished at an independent homeland. They gained nothing but genocide and repression under Saddam and they have little to gain now as part of an Iraq with a vicious cycle of violence and sectarian warfare that the Kurds want little to do with.

The booming, stable and prosperous Kurdistan Region was a reflection of anything but Iraq. Even before recent developments in Iraq, Kurdistan was virtually independent anyway. There were missing ingredients that the Kurds have worked hard to bridge. One of these was independent oil exports and control of their own revenues, as opposed to been at the mercy and goodwill of Baghdad for share of national budget.

With the Kurdish plains washed with so much oil, the revenues the Kurds could soon gain would far outweigh anything that Baghdad could ever give.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Nouri al-Maliki led Baghdad government have been at logger heads over oil rights for several years. Simply put, control of oil revenues and oil exports was a remaining noose that Baghdad had over Kurdistan. Kurdistan has tried to cut this remaining umbilical cord to Baghdad by working hard to build strong ties with Turkey, oil majors and building their own independent oil pipeline.

The second key ingredient to Kurdish push to independence was the status of disputed territories. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution laid out clear steps and clear timelines for the resolution of such territories. Yet almost 7 years since the original deadline for its implementation, owed to a lack of appetite and constant foot dragging by Baghdad, article 140 was never implemented.

Now with the recent ISIS onslaught and latest turmoil in Iraq, not only can the Kurds press ahead and increase oil exports, they have now gained control of vast disputed territories, including Kirkuk, the symbol of the Kurdish struggle.

Depending on how and if the Sunni insurgency can be contained as well as well as the  time expended in doing so, Kurds may well fast-track their push to independence. But for now, they are willing to bide their time and crucially consolidate their newly expanded borders and bring stability to their areas.

Who can blame the Kurds, who never wanted to be a part of the Iraqi state in the first place, to push for separation when the country is yet again in sectarian flames?

Self-determination is a natural right at the calmest of times, let alone at times of war with bloodshed on your doorstep.

Even Turkey, traditionally a staunch opponent of Kurdish nationalism, has come to realise that not only is Kurdish independence a natural path that ultimately cannot be stopped, but they can gain tremendous benefit from a secular, oil rich, strategic partners in the tumultuous new age of the Middle East.

Kurdistan was always going to become an independent state, now the timelines have been greatly accelerated with the new crisis in Iraq.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc