RNA - The real battle between the KRG and Baghdad - and its neighbors Iran, Turkey and Syria - has only just begun. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Supreme Court have denounced the referendum as “illegal and unconstitutional,” so did the rest of the international community. There is more:
1) Except for the Israeli regime, no country has backed the secession vote, much less its dangerous result. All the powers with legitimate interests in the region want to kick the problem down the road, and that is why the whole world (excepting Israel) wants to bin the result of the so-called independence referendum on Sept. 25. This is because if Iraq’s Kurds try to convert the autonomous zone into a fully independent state, the Iraqi state probably will collapse and Turkey likely will invade northern Iraq and Syria in military operations against Kurdish-led separatist forces.
2) Prior to the referendum, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to warn of “potentially destabilizing effects” of the secession vote. Turkey’s Parliament on Sept. 23 renewed a mandate for the Turkish Army to invade Syria and Iraq, and Ankara’s defense minister warned that the vote could collapse a “structure built on sensitive and fragile balances.” The White House also warned on Sept. 15 that “the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat the terrorist group of ISIL and stabilize the liberated areas.”
3) Washington is left without an appetite for a fight, and without the gumption to declare its Mesopotamian and Afghan adventures a failure. America’s military leadership of the past 20 years rose through the ranks by supporting various terrorist groups and proxies in the region. The US military has backed and armed the Kurds, and although it has cautioned the KRG to avoid secession, frequent moves, including secret sessions between Trump's top advisor and Barzani in the last few months, show the US policy is to the otherwise.
4) Western Europe is already reeling from the million and a half Syrian and other refugees dumped on its borders with the connivance of the Turkish government, which allowed these desperate souls to pass its borders en route to the Balkans and thence to northern Europe. The Green Continent wants stability at all costs, fearing that more fighting – this time in Kurdish regions - would set more refugees in motion.
5) The KRG is far from a functioning government. Inside it, the crucial vector is the rivalry between Erbil and Sulaimaniyeh. Erbil, largely tribal, is run by the Barzani clan. Sulaimaniyeh, way more cultured, is run by the Talibani clan, and its Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party has close ties with Iran. Barzani is viewed in Sulaimaniyeh as no more than “a crude opportunist and thug.”
6) The referendum was held in the three KRG provinces – Erbil, Sulaimaniyeh and Dohuk – but also, crucially, in the ultimate governorate of Kirkuk, the oil hub of northern Iraq, which has a mixed population of Kurds, Arabs (Sunni and Shiite) and Turkmen, and has never been a part of Kurdistan. Since 2014, more than three million non-Kurds have fled Kirkuk and its environs, as Barzani profited from the fight against ISIL to annex the province and conduct his own “soft” brand of ethnic cleansing. ISIL has been defeated and these refugees have begun returning to their homes. It’s bad news for the Barzani clan.
7) Tehran is allied with Baghdad as well as Ankara in wishing to prevent any partition of Iraq and Syria, much to the displeasure of the Western axis. It was Iraqis – and crucially, Shiite forces, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) – who actually took back what ISIL had invaded. Kurds only cared about defending KRG territory. And Tehran has a point when stressing that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps actually saved the Kurds from ISIL: the PMUs and the Kurdish Peshmarga, after all, were both weaponized and supported by Iranian advisors drawn from the elite Quds Force.
8) As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stressed, “Let’s see through which channels the northern Iraqi regional government will send its oil, or where it will sell it. We have the tap. The moment we close the tap, then it’s done.”
To be sure, an independent KRG cannot survive without UN/international support and/or under threat from Tehran and Ankara, with oil selling illegally for less than $60 a barrel, business with Turkey and Iran at over $14 billion a year, and under the weight of its own military spending, corruption and incompetence. Worse still, the KRG needs to import no less than 95% of its agricultural produce from Turkey and Iran. And, once again, the KRG totally depends on Ankara for exporting 550,000 barrels of oil a day. Erdogan is right: “It takes just an index finger down to completely halt the oil flow to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.” Erdogan’s key demand to the KRG post-referendum is non-negotiable: no declaration of independence.
This knock on the door brings us to the inevitable conclusion: Secession only means trouble. It leaves the KRG to fend for themselves. The KRG, who have shown themselves capable of betraying the central government in Baghdad, have no allies in the region – except for Israel and the United States – which once left them to their own devises in the 1980s. Of course, they will try to use the Kurdish crisis to their advantage, but to no avail. After almost two decades of killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and destroying sovereign nations in the bogus War on Terror, bankrupt Washington simply lacks the energy and people on the Capitol Hill with the imagination to turn the Kurdish crisis to its advantage.
No moment of glory for the KRG then. Baghdad is actually getting stronger – as part of the anti-partition alliance (Iran, Russia, Syria, Iraq plus Hezbollah and PMUs) that for all practical purposes has won the Real War on Terror in Syria and Iraq. None of these actors – or Turkey, which is involved in the Astana negotiations – wants partition of either Syria or Iraq.