The Middle-East has been riddled with conflict for decades. Saddam Hussein, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Iranian coup d’états, terror organizations and frequent US interventions have taken their toll on the region. With frequent and violent changes, there are some notable constants in the region though. One of them, especially recently, has been the Kurds.
For decades the Kurds have not been in the spotlight, although they always were a major part of the region, reaching back to biblical times. It were probably Saddam’s Bloody Friday chemical attacks in 1988 that reminded the world they even existed, and what they had to endure frequently to survive in the area.
Kurds Take Action
The Kurdish people have never really been in the driver seat. Which makes it even more surprising that the Kurds in Iraq are pushing for control of at least a small part of the region they lived in for centuries. Especially now, the Kurds are a catalyst for change, fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, supported by the US government. As soon as the Kurds in northern Iraq decided to strive for independence, however, things were about to go awry. Or so it seemed at least.
In addition to Turkey and Iran sitting on their northern borders with military troops on display, Baghdad’s forces are in a standoff with the Peshmerga just south of Kirkuk. While the Kurds in Iraq have expanded their territory in recent years in their fights with ISIS forces, they have therein also gained land previously belonging to the Central Iraqi Government, including strategically important oil fields around Kirkuk. Faced with an imminent split of their country and robbed of economic necessities like oil, the Baghdad government is being pushed into a corner by the Kurdish independence movement. A move that may make an escalation inevitable.
A Nation for Kurds
As the deadline set by the Iraqi army expired, both the Peshmerga and Baghdad did not move an inch. It was rumored the deadline to give up Kirkuk’s oil fields and retreat to pre-2014 borders has been extended for another 24 hours. Meanwhile, Iranian border crossings into Iraq have been closed, and the situation for Kurdish citizens in Iraq seems to get more severe. There are no imminent signs of military intervention on any side right now.
However, that may change sooner than expected. While the Kurds’ claims for their own nations seem justified, it puts an immense amount of pressure on Iraq, which is now facing with extinction losing economic resources and half their country.
Kurds in the Middle
Talks between Barzani (Kurds) and Masum (Iraq), mediated by Iran, have not yielded any results. As long as the Kurdish Regional Government does not aggressively push for independence but keeps pursuing peaceful negotiations, the situation might not progress, but at the same time, it won’t start another conflict in the region either.
The problem here is not necessarily only the Kurdish independence but the oil. Both the Iraqi Kurds as well as the Iraqi Government rely on oil and exports to fund their governments; both would be severely impacted by losing this particular income stream. While Turkey and Iran are fundamentally concerned about the act of independence itself, Iraq has oil related financial issues to worry about on top of that. But so has the Kurdish Regional Government, which failed to establish a working infrastructure apart from drilling efforts in recent years,
Western nations that have relied heavily on Kurdish support to fight their fights in the region are suddenly quiet and concerned to not fuel another conflict in the area. However much the Kurds do deserve an independent nation, it will be an uphill battle that is far from over. It will take some time to assess just how violent and chaotic it will eventually get. The Kurdish Regional Government has pursued peaceful negotiations, surrounded by military displays of power. Time will tell how long this setup can last.
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