The 2017 Munich Security Conference in Germany demonstrated the strategic importance of the Kurdistan Region on the regional and global stage, as it held bilateral meetings with a significant number of state officials.
Kurdistan was the only autonomous region to be invited alongside 192 countries, yet, as much as Kurdistan is receiving increasing acclaim for spearheading the battle against the Islamic State (IS), it remains stateless.
Almost three years since IS took control of large swathes of Iraqi territory, IS remains not just a regional threat but is a global threat that has led to deadly consequences across Europe. As Iraqi forces struggled against the IS advance in 2014, the Peshmerga took center stage in putting IS on the retreat.
The Munich Security Conference proved a vital platform for Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, and his accompanying delegation, to boost ties and ensure continued support for Peshmerga forces.
Statements from many high ranking officials in Munich reaffirmed the standing of the Kurds.
Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, described her meeting with Barzani as “excellent” and praised the Kurds as reliable partners while expecting German and international support for the Kurds to continue for “quite a while.”
Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence tweeted after a meeting with President Barzani that he discussed the “the need to accelerate plans to defeat ISIS,” while thanking Barzani for “cooperation with Baghdad.”
Barzani and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis had a lengthy meeting on the sidelines of the conference. According to a statement from the office of the Kurdistan Presidency, Mattis had “reiterating his country’s support for the people of Kurdistan” and had stated he “was familiar with the Kurdish cause and that Kurdistan and the US had made sacrifices side by side.”
Barzani also had a meeting with a delegation of 20 US senators who expressed strong support for the Kurds and stressed the new US administration would not abandon the Kurds.
There were many other positive statements of support towards the Kurds. In fact, the Kurdistan leadership often host high-ranking figures such as UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon in recent weeks.
However, this is only the short-term game for the Kurds. Security is the important theme of today for Western and regional powers, but the Kurds are looking beyond tactical measures.
The fact remains that IS became a problem on the doorsteps of Kurdistan mainly due to the continued sectarian policies emanating out of Baghdad as well as the weak defense that Iraqi forces were able to muster.
While Kurdistan remains part of Iraq, it can never safeguard its future, let alone prevent IS from striking again.
President Barzani has openly discussed Kurdish independence over past few years, but the significant difference is the growing international support for their right to self-determination.
According to Hemin Hawrami, senior advisor to President Barzani and part of the delegation in Munich, “the main point in the agenda of Barzani’s talks has been the independence of Kurdistan,” before adding, “President Barzani discussed this issue with the US Vice President very seriously.”
According to Hawrami, “there might have been some different points of views in timing and the mechanism, but we never heard of any delegate of any country saying the question of independence and self-determination is not your right.”
Kurdistan’s right to self-determination is not bound to the fact they are playing a key part in preserving stability amidst regional fires. However, the reliance on the Kurdistan government and Peshmerga forces at a vital time only magnifies the irony of being the largest nation in the world without a state.
It’s not that Kurdistan has been impatient, almost 14 years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the same sectarian issues blight Iraq, Shiite militia forces hold more sway than the official army, and Sunnis remain as disenchanted as ever. All in all, neither sectarian fighting nor political instability will end in Iraq after IS.
Even putting these major issues aside, Erbil is unlikely ever to escape being a subordinate of Baghdad, placing doubt that a genuine partnership could ever materialize.
The fact that some countries continue to insist on delivering military support to Kurdish forces via Baghdad only fuels this sense of subordination.
Barzani remains insistent on pursuing the path dialogue with Baghdad over Kurdish independence as “this will pave the way to many other countries to recognize us.” However, Barzani stressed that as much as they will continue to push for a positive result through dialogue, they “will certainly take other steps” if this fails.
As a boost to Kurdish aspirations, Von der Leyen made clear that independence was a matter for the Kurds to decide and they would respect this decision.
This view was likely to be echoed by French President Francois Hollande, who President Barzani met in recent days. Both leaders emphasized the strong and friendly relations, and France is likely to be a reliable partner of a future Kurdistan.
First Published: Kurdistan 24