Tag Archives: Kurdistan

Rise in oil prices should not mask economic cracks and need for reform in Kurdistan

Oil is the paradoxical treasure and curse. For oil producing countries, exporting oil at a high price normally results in revenue windfalls with enough to assemble large cash reserves.

But this is where the oil curse strikes. It becomes too easy to rely on your immense oil reserves as a simple and effective source of income. But when prices plummet as they have done in recent months, hardship strikes, economic woes kick-in, budget deficits are rife and social upheaval inevitably settles in as the economy goes in decline.

All oil producing countries have felt the bite in falling oil prices, even Saudi Arabia with its huge cash reserves is suddenly feeling the pinch. But for Kurdistan, the economic bite from falling oil prices was much sterner for a number of reasons.

The region was already struggling to pay salaries, even before the decline in oil prices, as Baghdad froze budget payments. Add a fierce war with the Islamic State (IS) that has dragged on for almost 2 years and 1.8 million refugees into the mix and the situation becomes even more fraught.

To compound matters, any attack on its oil pipeline through Turkey quickly leads to an even bigger crisis.

Oil exposes cracks in economies and Kurdistan is no different. Heavily reliance on oil revenues has crippled the region and any country whose fortunes are merely dependent on the spot price of oil is bound to be gripped by turbulence, instability and lose control of its destiny.

So what happens when oil prices begin climb as they inevitably do when they have bottomed out? Oil prices have climbed from 12 year lows to just over $40 a barrel in recent weeks. As welcome as the rise may seem, does Kurdistan breath a huge sigh of relief and look forward to brighter times again or does it truly address the numerous economic cracks that the decline in oil prices have exposed?

Simply put, an ambitious Kurdistan with eyes on independence needs wide economic reforms. Any rise in oil prices should not transform the horizon as the stability and welfare of any country, particularly one surrounded by so much regional fire and volatility, should never be tied to a daily commodity chart that can radically swing.

Kurdistan needs to divest its economy and source of revenues. The overwhelmingly reliance on the population for government salaries is untenable even if the oil prices reach new heights and there needs to be a sustained drive towards self-sufficiency.

When oil prices were high and economy activity was in full swing, the countryside slowly emptied and the cities became more crowded. Kurdistan has a strong reliance on imports for basic goods and its agriculture sector, the bread basket of any economy, needs to be urgently bolstered.

Oil will no doubt remain a key source of revenues for Kurdistan and further declines in economy based on any future drop in oil price is inevitable but by taking new economic reforms, the region will have a much better cushion to ride out the storms.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The time of the Kurds – rewriting the wrongs of history after 100 years of Sykes-Picot

If any nation was befitting of holding an independence referendum months shy of a century since the Sykes-Picot agreement that artificially divided the Middle East then it’s the Kurds.

100 years later and the Kurds continue to suffer the implications of the selfish imperial interests that carved the region into spheres of control and influence.

The strong desire of the Kurds to attain independence is hardly a secret.  Yet for decades, the Kurds across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran had to struggle for basic human rights let alone their legal right to statehood.

Seemingly shackled by the Sykes-Picot legacy, the Kurds have been warned at every juncture that they must live within the reality of the Middle Eastern landscape.

Yet this same reality is a delusion that the West continues to cling on and the regional powers continue to use against the Kurds. The notion that Iraq is breaking apart lacks logic. For something to break, it must have been whole to start with. The Kurds never agreed or accepted to part of the artificial state of Iraq.

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani has stated the right to self-determination for many years. However, this became a more tangible dream with the chaos of 2014 that was propelled by the Islamic State and the rapid disintegration of the Iraqi army and with it the de facto boundaries in place.

The promise of a referendum was curtailed in 2014 as the US-led air support for Kurdish forces undoubtedly came with the price of preserving unity. This is the same US dream since 2003, to bring all Iraqi factions into the political picture and promote national reconciliation. However, in spite of all the US sacrifice and efforts in Iraq, the country is further from any semblance of unity than ever before.

The referendum dreams were rekindled this week with Barzani proclaiming “The time has come and the situation is now suitable for the Kurdish people to make a decision through a referendum on their fate.”

Although, this referendum is non-binding for now, it will hold great symbolic value. An unofficial referendum was already held in 2005 alongside the Iraqi parliamentary elections with 98.8% voting in favor of independence.

The referendum result will not be a surprise but the timing of the any formal declaration of independence will be much trickier. The simple answer to when is a good time for Kurds to seek their rights is that there will never be a perfect time. There are more favorable circumstances but waiting for the green light from others is delusionary.

Regional hypocrisy towards the Kurds is illustrated with the usual reaction of any talk of a referendum or independence. Turkeys, Arabs or Kurds would not have accepted a lack of statehood or their national rights for 1 year let alone 100! Yet the Kurds are still seen as the overreachers or the bringers of instability.

When Kurds were systematically repressed and denied basic rights, did the same governments warn of adverse consequences?

Any referendum is not designed to put pressure on Baghdad. Kurdistan government already controls most of the disputed lands and independently exports their oil thanks to a lack of budget payments from Baghdad.

Kurdistan has an increasing number of backers for independence, including Russia and European states and many in Washington embrace the idea of a pro-western and secular new state.

Kurdish independence will not be the factor for instability and mayhem in the Middle East, the other sides are already doing a good job of that.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The Allies Must Help Kurdistan in Economic Downturn

With plunging oil prices, fight against Islamic State and thousands of refugees, allies must support Kurdistan but financial aid should be coupled with reforms

Oil is a black gold that all is too great when prices are sky-high. It can easily balance the national budgets of many a country. At the same time, an inefficient and unbalanced economy can be easily papered over with the huge windfall from oil revenues.

The oil honeymoon of recent years when prices were at record highs is now replaced by rattled markets and oil based economies who have continuously revised down expectations of the floor in oil prices.

Even low-level estimates of $45 USD a barrel priced in for many 2016 national budgets is been rapidly revised with current prices of $30 USD a barrel.

The ramifications of the oil price drop can be felt across the Middle East but none more so than the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan was already feeling the burden of financial constraints in 2014 as Baghdad halted budget payments. The first half of 2015 was hardly much better as budget disputes with Baghdad meant that Kurdistan was left with no choice but to resume independent oil exports.

But this isn’t any normal economic crisis. The financial crisis has intensified at a delicate and unprecedented juncture for the region. Kurdistan is at the heart of a vicious war with the Islamic State (IS) that naturally warrants significant expenses in addition to catering for 1.8 million refugees and internally displaces persons that need food, medicine and shelter.

Simply put, the Kurdistan revenues are insufficient to cater for refugees, Peshmerga, military equipment and supplies and public wages with the majority of the people directly relying on salaries from the government.

The current revenues are largely from oil sales but one must not forget that this oil is not been pumped for free. The International Oil Companies operating in the region under already tight financial regimes must be paid.

An obvious solution is of course to pump more oil, but since prices have continued to tumble, this is hardly a rewarding ploy and at the same times the upgraded infrastructure to do this costs significant money.

All these factors point to an unsustainable situation for the region. The economic cloud should not mask the need for economic reforms, decreasing the heavy reliance on oil revenues, tightening of budgets, implementing new tax reforms, reducing the high dependence on imports and of course addressing the heavy reliance on the state for salaries.

However, the current situation is simply unmanageable and Kurdistan needs to be supported by the United States and its key allies at this difficult juncture. Iraq, with its own financial conundrums, can hardly be relied on or trusted to come to the aid of the Kurds.

Kurdistan cannot ignore 1.8 million refugees nor can it lighten its burden against IS. Kurdistan must be given the credit it deserves at the forefront of the coalition fight to oust IS from Iraq and Syria.

It must be given the military aid and financial assistance required to shore up its finances but at the same time must embark on an extensive economic reform programme of its own to safeguard and own its destiny.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

With strategic standing compromised by deepening crises, Kurdistan must look firmly forwards, not backwards

The political fallout in Kurdistan that has snowballed in recent weeks could not have come at a worse juncture for Kurdistan. The deep crises surrounding Kurdistan, including the bitter fight against Islamic State (IS), crippling fiscal constraints and a huge influx of refugee’s demands political unity. However, as the current government has struggled to make decisions such as the fate of the Kurdistan presidency and only added to the polarization in the region, unity has been hard to come by.

Kurdistan has long been divided by imperial forces, followed by successive regional forces and over the years the Kurds have been seemingly determined to stir their own divisions.

Tribal or partisan ties have been a key part of the socio-political landscape and regional affiliations across Kurdistan Region are clear to see. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has a historical bastion in Duhok and Erbil governorates whilst the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Change Movement (Gorran) have a strong base in the Sulaimaniya governorate.

This polarization around tribal and political loyalties makes the notion of a broad-based government that can make common decisions to appease both sides of the divide even more difficult. More importantly, in each bastion of support, people on the street are easily swayed by their political parties due to emotional ties.

These ties are clear to see in the recent violent protests. In any healthy democracy, protests or strikes are a natural phenomenon and the people have reason to be disgruntled over consistently delayed salaries. However, torching and attacking party offices is not acceptable in any democratic country but at the same time neither is harming of any protestors with excessive force.

The KDP blamed Gorran for orchestrating the protests, leading to the ousting of five Gorran MPs from government, including Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Yusuf Mohammed.

With Western powers monitoring the situation closely, the onus is on all parties to apply the right measures. Blame games and finger pointing aside, there must be urgent and fair investigations to identify the perpetrators of the attacks and lay clear who is to blame.

No MP should be barred from travelling freely. With political parties becoming entrenched in their territory of support, then this is how divisions solidify with allegiances on the ground becoming entrenched.

Parliament is a reflection of the electorate and the will of the people and as such parliament must be empowered to make key decisions with no MP immune from full accountability.

With growing prominence and strategic standing, Kurdistan should be looking firmly forwards. It is finally in control of its destiny and away from the shackles of the past where it could even attain elusive independence.

However, the recent political fallout and violent demonstrations will tarnish the image of Kurdistan abroad. More than ever, political parties must diffuse tensions and work towards unity.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Lack of unity crippling the Kurdish hand amidst an unprecedented juncture

Protests across Kurdistan, some turning violent, over delayed salaries and the continued stalemate between the five main political parties over the presidency have compounded an already difficult situation gripping Kurdistan.

If the ongoing war with the Islamic State (IS), lack of budget payments from Baghdad, plummeting oil prices further constricting revenues and not forgetting the 1.3 million refugees already in Kurdistan were bad enough, the constant bickering between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Change Movement (Gorran), Kurdistan Islamic Union and the Kurdistan Islamic League and lack of a consensus on how to resolve the presidency issue after Massoud Barzani’s original extension expired on 20th August 2015 has made matters worse.

Two protestors were killed and a large number were wounded in Qaladize following strikes and demonstrations that merely added fuel to the fire.

Political unity and stability is needed to guide Kurdistan through the unprecedented crisis, yet unity has been tough to come by.

Finger pointing, animosity and continued wrangling has meant that consensus over the presidency issue has been almost impossible. Amidst the backdrop of increasing protests across the region came the ninth meeting between the political parties to resolve the presidency issue but was suspended as the parties yet again failed to reach a breakthrough.

As the political stalemate continues, there is no doubt that elements are stirring tensions on the streets. But there is only way to resolve this crisis and this is ultimately through parliament, dialogue and ultimately if required through the polls.

The onus and responsibility is on political parties to urge calm and ensure tensions on the streets do no quickly snowball into much bigger catastrophe. But above all, such parties must deal with the matter with the urgency that it deserves.

Thousands of Peshmerga are putting their lives on the line in a brutal war with IS and at a time of increasing strategic standing of the Kurdistan Region in the ever volatile Middle East, internal instability and lack of unity is backfiring.

At a sensitive juncture for Kurdistan, the only true friend of the Kurd is the Kurd himself. Do not expect Baghdad to come running to resolve the economic crisis or defend the region, whilst even Western interests will be always be through their narrow lens.

A polarized Kurdistan, crippled by a lack of money, lack of political unity and increasing violence on the streets will only weaken the Kurdish hand.

Even the consensus government, which at least in theory was a key milestone, was a misnomer. Every side criticizes the government and rival parties, yet ironically they all constitute as part of the same government.

There is a deeper desire to unearth gaps and flaws in each political party and settle scores than work together, which makes a mockery of any notion of a unity government.

The unique opportunity afforded by the rapid unravelling of the Middle Eastern landscape does not come often. Kurds have waited decades to escape repression and become a force in the Middle East after years of second class status.

Now the time has come to look at the bigger picture – unity is not just needed within the Kurdistan Region but across all of its parts.

How can Kurdistan ever seek great unity amongst its components or even outright independence if it cannot pull itself out of a crisis even at a time when many evils and problems are knocking on its door?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc


Kurdistan’s hour of reckoning

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurdistan Region has risen in prominence and prosperity on a continuous basis. The region was transformed in a short period of time but no project is ever smooth-sailing in the volatile Middle East and Kurdistan faces new obstacles and perils that threaten to derail its development.

Since January 2014, numerous new challenges have come to the fore. An economic crisis has been in motion since former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stopped budget payments to Kurdistan. Even under new premier Haider al-Abadi these budget payments have been rarely on time let alone to the full allocation, in spite of an oil export agreement that was struck in December 2014 but rapidly disintegrated.

Even as Kurdistan has started oil exports independently, plummeting oil prices have only added to the economic woe – not least due to the 1.8 million refugees residing in Kurdistan and in turn threatening the demographic make-up of the region and the brutal war with the Islamic State (IS) since June 2014 that stretches across a 1000km border.

Add Turkey resuming bombardment of the PKK in Kurdistan territory and the situation in Turkey ominously pointing to a return to the dark days of the 1990’s, and you would think that Kurdistan has more of it share of headaches and struggles.

However, the icing on the cake of the pressures facing Kurdistan is a bitter political feud over the fate of Massoud Barzani whose presidential term expired on 20th August with the main political parties no closer to a resolution over the fate of the presidency.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has sought a second extension of Barzani’s presidency after the current one expired citing the precarious predicament facing the region.

On the other hand, the Change Movement (Gorran) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and other political parties are not only opposed to any extension but are simultaneously promoting a change to the presidential system, meaning that the president would be selected by and accountable to the parliament in the future as opposed to selection by a popular vote, thereby seeking to dilute presidential powers.

Discussions have painstakingly dragged on and no consensus remains in sight for now. Gorran have insisted that the parliament speaker fills the void as interim President until elections can be held but the KDP are adamant that no such vacuum exists and that until consensus can be reached between all parties, Barzani remains as president with full powers.

The disappointing situation casts an unavoidable shadow over Kurdistan and side-steps from the core issue of fighting IS and resolving the economic hardships. It begs the question why the political parties could not reach consensus in the two years since Barzani’s term was first extended and why difficult negotiations at the eleventh hour are required.

No one can deny that Barzani cannot remain President indefinitely. However, other than various crises facing the region that demands stability and unity, it is not clear who the real candidates are for the role as president and when any voting can be held.

The US and European allies have favored continuity over any uncertainty that may undermine the crucial role played by the Kurds in the fight against IS.

In any case, not matter what is eventually agreed, the region must address the issues today and not postpone them yet again – it need a clear political roadmap and avoid last minute crisis.

If the presidential system is to be changed, then it must be via the appropriate parliamentary and democratic channels.

Democracy is indeed a process of evolution and Kurdistan has the opportunity to show its political maturity and enshrine its status as a major strategic force of the new Middle Eastern landscape. It’s time to demonstrate readiness to become fully independent and serve as a beacon of hope to the rest of the Middle East.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Independent oil exports – a new leaf for Kurdistan Region and International Oil Companies?

Sitting on more than 45 billion barrels of oil reserves, Kurdistan has enormous potential but with the region also awash with great problems, it has faced a difficult predicament.

A deadly war with the Islamic State along an extended frontline and the reality of housing 1.8 million refugees is only made worse with the long running budget issues between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Baghdad effectively halted budget payments under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in January 2014 and a subsequent agreement last December under current premier Haider al-Abadi has seen the Kurds receive a fraction of their agreed entitlement.

This vicious cycle has meant that local salaries were often not paid, let alone the millions owed to International Oil Companies (IOC) under respective Production Sharing Contracts.

The last remaining umbilical cord that Baghdad has over the Kurdistan Region is control of oil exports but after months of feuding and growing impact on the economy of Kurdistan, the KRG had no choice but to resume independent oil exports in recent weeks and receive proceeds from the sales directly.

This finally puts matters into Kurdish hands and rather than pleading for budget payments from Baghdad each month, they control their own destiny.

Plummeting oil prices have hardly helped but this can be offset with increased daily production.

As budget payments have threatened to put a stranglehold over the region, the balance sheets of established IOCs in the region such as Genel Energy and Gulf Keystone Petroleum have fared badly.

These so called smaller companies took the risk to explore for oil and were rewarded with significant discoveries, potentially making them majors in their own right. However, as share prices for both companies clearly show, potential in the ground is no consolation for lack of payments.

In this light, the KRG statement this week that promises IOCs a share of the oil revenues from September was a welcome boost that received much publicity. The announcement is a major milestone for such companies even if the finer details remain unclear such as exactly what these payments will amount to and how arrears amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars will be paid back.

The KRG has eyes on rapidly expanding production from the circa 500kbpd to 1 million bpd but such a plan relies heavily on IOCs and their ability to implement an infrastructure capable of supporting new outputs.

This is easier said than done if the focus of the IOCs is on getting by each month, let alone placing further investment in infrastructure.

Nevertheless, the recent announcement sets the platform for growth and stability. It will take time but with Kurdistan in control of its own destiny, such targets and commitments are very much achievable.

Independent oil exports allow Kurdistan and IOCs to turn a new page and this can only be good for the numerous foreign companies waiting on the sidelines to invest.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As Peshmerga continue advance on Mosul, Kurds repaid with no seat at international anti-Islamic State conference

When the Islamic State (IS) launched rapid attacks on Mosul, Tikrit and large swathes of Iraq, the well-equipped and sizeable Iraqi army wilted away. Ironically, IS took large quantities of US-supplied heavy weaponry and laid siege on more Iraqi cities and then Kurdistan.

The United States led coalition has spent billions and several hundred air-strikes destroying a large proportion of their own weaponry.

As the Iraqi army evaporated, the Kurds took center stage in the battle against IS. The sacrifices of the Peshmerga have directly resulted in the IS staying largely on the back-foot and on the defensive.

It was highly symbolic that in the same week that Kurdish force took control of several towns and villages in an offensive west of Mosul bringing Mosul center firmly within range, that Kurdistan leadership was not even represented at the international anti-IS conference in London.

Kurdistan forces have gained international-wide coverage and respect as the champions of the war against IS and Western powers, seeing the strategic importance of the Peshmerga in the fight against IS, have supplied heavy weaponry and ammunition to the Kurds.

The Kurds hoped that their ever increasing strategic standing would have enshrined their quest for independence. After all, they were the real defenders of the so-called disputed territories in Iraq, it was their forces that led the push-back against IS and it was their bastion of peace and tolerance that IS wanted to break.

The Kurdish role took on greater significance for the West but yet again it appears that the Kurdish effort is diluted by the Western obsession of a united Iraq. It was as though, Iraqi Prime Ministers Haider al-Abadi presence was all that was necessary.

Baghdad has proven anything but a true representative of the Kurds. When IS attacked Kurdistan and the disputed territories that Baghdad so stubbornly refused to hold referendums over, the Iraqi army was nowhere in sight. In fact, for over a decade Baghdad has refused to fund the Peshmerga forces even though they have protected Iraqi cities amidst al-Qaeda and inter-sectarian conflict, never mind the fight against IS today.

Kurdistan President, Massoud Barzani, who expressed his disappointment at the organizers of the conference, stated “it is unfortunate that the people of Kurdistan do the sacrifice and the credit goes to others.” Barzani highlighted that the Peshmerga “are the most effective force countering global terrorism today” and that “the people of Kurdistan bear the brunt of this situation and no country or party can represent or truly convey their voice in international gatherings.”

Meanwhile, Abadi pleaded for more weapons. The problem is not providing heavy weaponry to the Iraqi army, they have already received plenty. The underlying problem is that sectarian animosity, lack of belief in a national cause and no common loyalty, means that such provisions were quickly wasted.

It is time for the Kurds to receive military assistance and the due credit they deserve. The continuous illusion of US and European powers of a unified Iraq was one of the main reasons for the IS onslaught in the first place. If Iraq as a nation was fractured before the events of 2014, it is now firmly beyond repair.

Stable, secular and pro-Western forces are values and allies that the US should be running to protect and endorse, they have hardly got them in abundance in a rapidly deteriorating Middle East.

With a major assault to retake Mosul mooted for the spring, already hesitant Kurds must be thinking twice of further sacrifices in fighting Baghdad’s war.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

2014 in review – a year that will long echo in the history of Kurdistan

2014 proved a remarkable year for Kurdistan that will long serve in the memory and echo for many generations to come.

Kurdistan started the year on a historic footing with oil flowing, stored and read to sell via its new oil pipelines to Turkey. It completed a symbolic quest for self-sufficiency and opened a new chapter in its strategic standing with first oil exports a few months later in May. It finished the year on the attack against the Islamic State (IS) after breaking the siege of Mount Sinjar, just a few months after IS threatened to knock on the doors of Erbil.

These two events demonstrate the turbulence and emotional journey of Kurdistan in the last 12 months.

Independent oil exports were a significant stride for Kurdistan. It threatened to cut the last remaining umbilical cord with Baghdad. The first half of 2014 was tainted with much of the same relations with Baghdad – disagreements, distrust and marginalization policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Relations with Baghdad turned so sour that Maliki effectively launched an economic siege on Kurdistan, withholding budget payments.

Iraq may have held national elections on April 30th 2014 but any sense of unity or reconciliation amongst Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds was as distant as ever. Maliki’s State of Law coalition may have won but for the Kurds a third term for Maliki was a firm red line.

The Kurds themselves took several months after parliamentary elections to form their own government owed to changing political realities on the ground.

The real game changer undoubtedly came in June. IS, already prominent in parts of Anbar province, launched a whirlwind attack on Mosul, Tikrit and surrounding areas leaving Iraqi security forces in disarray. As IS took over town after town, not to mention oil installations and vast amounts of heavy weapons, it made mockery of US President Barack Obama’s assessment of groups such IS as minor players just six months prior.

Iraq was shaken with IS threatening to break down the door to Baghdad. The Kurds quickly assumed the security vacuum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories as IS forces closed in. It may have been far from an ideal scenario, but the lands that Kurds failed to get in 11 years of diplomacy and political jockeying, were swiftly in Kurdish control in merely hours.

Add to Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani’s public declaration to hold a referendum and independence never felt so close.

If Maliki’s days were already numbered, then the IS onslaught laid to rest any faint chance of retaining premiership. Such was the frayed relations with Kurds, that even under immense pressure and with Shiite militias effectively the last barrier between IS and Baghdad, Maliki resorted to launching a fierce tirade at the Kurds accusing them of hosting IS and other insurgents.

The Kurdish borders were no longer with Iraq but with the Islamic State. As IS seemed determined to head south, Kurdish forces became complacent and events thereafter will live in the memory much like other atrocities against the Kurds.

The Kurds, caught off-guard, were overrun in Sinjar and several other towns. Religious minorities were already the subject of widespread atrocities after the initial IS invasion in June, but what was to follow shocked Kurdistan and world. Thousands of Yezidis were slain with thousands of women taken captive, not to mention the thousands more that died in harsh conditions on top of Mount Sinjar under searing heat and threat of IS.

IS didn’t stop at Sinjar as it quickly took Zumar, Makhmur and threatened the very doorsteps of Erbil.it was at this moment that IS was no longer a regional problem that could be ignored. It became an international crisis and an international dilemma, even if the Kurds bore the brunt of the battle.

With threat of humanitarian catastrophe increasing by the day, the US and its allies finally intervened in August, a campaign that was later extended to Syria in September, helping Kurdish forces push back heavily armed IS forces.

The first casualty of US intervention was the end of Maliki. An already reluctant US was not going to intervene without their own preconditions for fractured Iraqis.

The struggle and determination of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces received wide coverage across the globe. US and European powers soon felt compelled to supply key arms to the Kurds.

Now the Kurds were at the forefront of the battle against IS that continues valiantly and with much sacrifice to this day. Syrian Kurdish forces were already engaged in deadly battles for many months before, but the latest battle for Kobane was a much different prospect. Surrounded on 3 sides, it was coalition airstrikes that gave much needed relief to Kurdish forces even as Turkish tanks on the border stood and watched on.

So iconic and defining was Kobane for Kurds across the border that it even threatened the end of the peace process in Turkey with the PKK.

The deployment of 150 Peshmerga to help Syrian YPG forces was symbolic in that it eroded borders of Kurdistan as Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iraq came together.

With such widespread media coverage of Kobane, the bringing together of Kurds across the region and not mention regional and international players involved, Kobane transformed the regional dynamic.

Kurdish forces in Rojava received much acclaim as a bastion against IS in Syria as ties with the US slowly blossomed, much to the annoyance of Turkey whose relations with the US were already strained over Syria.

What 2015 brings for the Kurds is unclear. But top of the list of wishes is the end of IS, protection of their communities and renewed peace. Either way, 2014 will long echo in the history of Kurdistan.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

How the struggle for Kobane transformed the regional dynamic

“I don’t understand why Kobane is so strategic for the US, there are no civilians left there”, bemoanedthe disillusionedTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the US conducted multiple aidrops of military and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.

Whilst Turkey has downplayed the significance of the small town, Kobane has become a symbol of the international fight against the Islamic State (IS), placing the credibility of the coalition on the line.

At the same time the fight for Kobane is not just contained to a local struggle against IS militants but the battle reverberates politically and strategically across the region.

Kobane has already had a profound effect on the regional dynamic. Turkey has resisted international pressure to intervene in Kobane or allow Kurdish volunteers from Turkey to enter, labelling the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a “terrorist organisation” that it sees as no different to the PKK or indeed the IS.

Turkey has repeated this rhetoric whilst conversely US military assistance and communication channels to the Syrian Kurds have rapidly increased.

US measures have contradictedthe Turkish line, with the US clearly seeing the Syrian Kurds as key allies in the battle against IS and hardly as a terrorist force.

At the same time, Turkey has tried to strike agreement with the Kurds to allow Free Syrian Army (FSA) to enter Kobane, even as it opposed the hundreds of Kurdish volunteers from joining the fight. Aligning the FSA in a more official capacity in Kobane, would dilute the sense of Kurdish nationalist struggle for Kobane and Rojava and also soften the rising stock of the PKK.

Turkey has worked hard to pressure the PYD to join the FSA to turn the battle as a Syrian national struggle with the wider goal of ousting Bashar al-Assad. Ironically, a Kurdish dominated win in Kobane, will only strengthen Kurdish nationalism, the standing of the PKK and Kurdish autonomy, not to mention the pivotal role of the Syrian Kurds in the battle against IS across Syria. This is the same fate that Ankara has tried to avoid.

As the US has grown closer to the Syrian Kurds, Ankara, in danger of been isolated underintense international spotlight, allowed Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces a passage through Turkey to support Kobane.

This week the Kurdistanregional parliament approved the deployment of up to 200 fighters. These fighters will provide key support to strained YPG forces but is also a symbolic move by the Kurdistan leadership to bolster cross-border Kurdish unity. For Turkey, having FSA and Peshmerga forces on the ground, alleviates it from an embarrassing situation of providing de-facto assistance to the Syrian Kurdish forces, even as they are labelled as a terrorist organisation and ultimately as anenemy.

A key move on the back of the decision to deploy Peshmergafighters this week was the unity agreement negotiated in days of talks in Dohuk between the PYD and rival Syrian Kurdish factions. The split between pro-PKK and pro-KRG Kurdish parties in Syria had severely handicapped the Kurdish struggle and their newfound autonomy.

Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani hailed the agreement, “This agreement brings us together and itself is a significant answer to enemies who did not intend the Kurds to be united.” While PYD leader, Salih Muslim, stated that “All Kurdish people are under attack, so they should be united.”

Previous unity agreements have quickly broken down and if it sticks this time around, it will serve as a major boost for the Syrian Kurdish cantons and perhaps in the way Ankara approaches the region.

Such is the intense international focus on Kobane and the symbol of the fight against IS that even the Syrian government has been quick to stake their part in the struggle, alleging military and logistical support to Kurds in Kobane.

Whoever thought that a small dusty town, unknown to much of the wider world, would bring together the Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, Turkey, IS, FSA, Assad, the US, Saudi Arabia and numerous other international and regional players?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: OpenDemoracy, eKurd.net