The Speaker of Iraq’s Parliament, Salim Jabouri has travelled to Erbil in northern Iraq, to meet with the Kurdish secessionist leader Masoud Barzani. The move comes as Iraq has made it clear that it will not tolerate secession, but will instead work to reach an agreement with Kurdish secessionists with the aim of preserving the status quo, wherein Kurds in norther Iraq had substantial autonomy within the framework of the Iraqi state.
Iraq and its neighbours have spoken with a singular voice on the issue. They have made it clear that they see Kurdish secessionism as a threat to the territorial unity of embattled states of the region and also a treat to regional security, not least because of Israel’s deep and dangerous connections with Kurdish nationalist movements. Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran have also spoken plainly of their legitimate fears that a Kurdish state would openly discriminate against Arabs and Turkomen in their borders, a fear which is based on present worrying trends of non-Kurds being systematically disenfranchised in Kurdish regions of both Iraq and Syria.
As I recently wrote in The Duran, not all secessionist movements can be viewed through the same prism nor be ultimately judged via a universal standard:
“In contemporary geo-politics, there are several varieties of such movements, each with unique characteristics.
1. The Reunification of Peoples
In many ways, this ought to be the most clear-cut and least violent form of ‘independence’ movement, but history has proved that this is not always the case.
While the German people began a process of peacefully reuniting after November 1989, the single Korean people remain divided due to similar political considerations which once split Germany.
While the Korean War is effectively a frozen conflict, the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir face separation from their brethren in Pakistan due to the militant policies of successive Indian governments. In Jammu and Kashmir, violence and war is a daily fact due to India’s insistence that the Kashmiri people do not unite with their brethren in Pakistan.
In Crimea, Russians peacefully voted to reunite with the Russian Federation in 2014, but in other parts of the former Russian Empire and former Soviet Union, Russian refugees remain either ransom to foreign governments or in the case of many Russians in the Baltic states, they live as stateless people.
The votes in Donetsk and Lugansk for independence from the fascist Kiev regime are examples of an attempt to begin a peaceful reconciliation and re-unification process with other Russians, although the Donbass referenda also correlate to another kind of independence movement.
2. Independence for survival
Prior to 2014, the Russian populations of Ukraine, were more or less comfortable with the uneasy balance of Ukrainian internal politics which was achieved by the Party of Regions which consistently won votes in Russian areas.
While The Party of Regions was committed to the unity of a Ukrainian state which artificially slammed together regions of historically rival nations, the Party of Regions worked within international institutions. in order to maintain an economic and free movement union with the fraternal Russian Federation.
This all changed drastically when the Kiev coup of 2014 put a regime in power which was and remains actively hostile to the Russians of Ukraine and to Moscow itself. Hence, the Donabss Republics were proclaimed after a democratic vote to separate from the Kiev regime.
3. Independence through terrorism
The late 20th and 21st century has seen a number of independence movements which do not represent a significant majority of people in a given region, nor are they achieved peacefully or with any form of consent.
The classic example of this was the breakup of Yugoslavia where ultra-nationalists in Croatia, Bosnia and later the Serbian Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija used violence, warfare and terrorism to break-up the unity of Yugoslavia a state whose federal model of third way socialism, was once a model for peaceful coexistence through a unifying state ideology and mutually shared prosperity.
However, foreign actors, particularly Germany, France, Britain and later the United States, aided militants and terrorists in their break-up of Yugoslavia.
Far from being an independence movement, the break-up of Yugoslavia evolved into an encircling attack on the Serbian populations of Yugoslavia. Serbs continue to be ethnically cleansed and disenfranchised in the occupied province of Kosovo and Metohija as well as in Republika Srpska which continents to shelter Serbs from the Bosnia regime in Sarajevo.
The former parts of Yugoslavia are without few if any exceptions, worse off today than they were prior to the wars and terror campaigns of the 1990s.
Likewise, in Pakistan, Baluchistan has been a hotbed of terrorism aimed at Pakistan, much of which is funded and aided by India. Pakistan has continually warned India not to fund terrorist separatism in Baluchistan, but these warnings have been to little avail.
4. Geo-strategic/puppet independence movements
The recent vote among Iraqi Kurds to separate from the rest of Iraq is a very clear example of a group of people using ethno-nationalism to weaken the geo-strategic positions and security of multiple nations, all while serving the imperialist agenda of a third power: Israel.
Israel is keen on carving out Kurdish statelets from Iraq and Syria in particular, in order to better realise the Yinon Plan to create a so-called Greater Israel at the expense of other states.
Something similar is happening in the west Balkans where Albanian terrorists are fomenting a campaign of ethno-nationalism. In using minority populations in Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece, in order to make moves towards a so-called Greater Albania, the Albanian NATO state is exploiting minority populations in the service and for the benefit of the United States, just as sure as Israel is exploiting the Kurds in order to destroy Arab unity and weaken the position of Iran and Turkey in the Middle East.
Implicit if this form of separatism is also an ethno-nationalist component wherein the seperatist groups disenfranchises or even ethnically cleanse minorities in their historic homes. This is increasingly the case in respect of Kurds via-a-vis Arabs, Assyrians and Turkomen, just as it was and remains the case in respect of Albanians vis-a-vis Slavs, most prominently, against Serbs.
5. Historic regional/sub-state national identities
When a state is comprised former states who entered into a voluntary union or regions which did something similar, sometimes one side or both agrees to dissolve the union.
A peaceful example of this was the so-called Velvet Divorce between the Czechs and Slovaks in the former Czechoslovakia in 1993.
Other unsuccessful attempts to do something similar were made, including during the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
Against this background, it is clear to see why Kurdish secessionism is a threat to four nations and several ethnic groups, while Catalan independence is not a direct security threat to anyone.
In spite of these realities, the firm movements against secessionism among Iraq’s neighbours have been tempered by rhetoric which often conveys sentiments of disappointment rather than violence. In many ways Iraq and her neighbours are mores shocked and insulted than enraged. Turkish President Erdogan who has been the most vocal critic of regional Kurdish secessionism, has on several occasions, asked rhetorical questions of Iraqi Kurdish leaders. Primarily, he has asked them why they seek to sacrifice good relations with Turkey and others for far flung ideas of independence that are supported only by Israel’s rogue leader, Israel’s deep state and Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence service?
Iraq’s Parliamentary Speaker’s visit to Kurdish regions is a further sign that Iraq seeks to restore a previously functional status quo, rather than inflict a kind of punishment for a unilateral Kurdish move against the interests of Iraq. Iraq is of course going to act in its interests if threatened, but Baghdad is also working at the same time to de-escalate tensions. It is a carrot and stick approach which is similar to the Sino-Russian approach to Pyongyang.
Iran’s soft spoken President Rouhani’s statements of disappointment have been matched by a Syrian government that says it is willing to engage in dialogue with Syrian Kurds after the conflict against jihadists is over, in a move that will help to separate Kurdish radicals from ordinary citizens looking to reach a peaceful and amicable agreement with the legitimate government.
Finally, the leader of the Lebanese party Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has condemned Kurdish secessionism while calling Kurds “brothers” in a well reasoned statement arguing for total equality within the framework of Arab states remaining united against Israeli and western imperialist aggression.
While Catalan independence poses minimal problems for Spain and the wider European region when compared to Kurdish secessionism in the Middle East, the leaders in Madrid, the EU and other European states, have responded to the Catalan referendum in a manner that can only be described as heavy-handed without justification and unrealistic without any hint of willingness to reconcile undeniable differences. Arabs, Iranians and Turks have genuine fears of a Kurdish state that could act as an Israeli puppet and a home for terrorists, yet they are still trying to convince the Kurds of Iraq to go back to a situation of generous autonomy in northern Iraq.
By contrast, one of the very reasons that Catalonia held an independence vote a week ago, is due to the fact that the deeply corrupt Spanish Constitutional Court abolished much of the autonomy given to Catalonia by the left of centre government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2006.
Today’s right-wing/neo-Francoist Spanish regime, lead by Mariano Rajoy has done everything it can to push Catalonia further away. From open police violence against unarmed, peaceful voters, to speeches from both the Prime Minister and Spanish King slamming the very idea that Catalans have the right to express an opinion, Spain is treating Catalonia not like a part of a united nation, but like a colony fit to be exploited and spat upon.
Just today, in spite of Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont calling for respectful dialogue with Madrid, Mariano Rajoy has stated that the Spanish Civil Guards (heavily armed riot police) will remain in Catalonia, against the wishes of Catalans and that furthermore, Madrid will not engage in any dialogue with Barcelona.
The response from the EU has been equally disappointing. No major EU figure has tried to calm tensions and assure an even handed approach to the biggest crisis in the union since the 2007/2008 financial crash. The silence from the EU has been shocking, not least because there is no organisation that is theoretically better placed to solve an internal EU crisis than the EU itself.
Other figures from leading EU states, have either said nothing, or dismissed Catalan grievances with total arrogance. This includes Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who revealed the extent of his own hypocrisy when supporting Spanish unity, while at the same time leading the charge for a British exit from the European Union in the most extreme manner possible. This is the same Johnson who maliciously said that the only trouble with turning Muammar Gaddafi’s birthplace of Sirte into “Dubai” is that one must clear the city of “all the dead bodies”. These of course were dead bodies created by a war his own regime conducted.
While Arab, Iranian and Turkish leaders are attempting to firmly, but transparently put a lid on a genuine threat to their region, Spanish and European leaders have turned what may have only ever amounted to an isolated localised problem, into a crisis of confidence, democracy and human rights in the heart of the European Union. This is the same EU which claims it is a bastion of stability, democracy and human rights.
Many European figures often talk about their part of the world as being among the planet’s most civilised places. A simple exercise in contrasting Middle Eastern responses to Kurdish secessionists and European responses to Catalan secessionists, demonstrates that this simply is not true. The much derided Middle East has outclassed Europe in its handling of issues which on the surface, have some resemblance to one another. Europe ought to examine its own exceptionalist claims, claims which date back to and remain guided by an imperialist attitude which has no place in the civilised world.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.