Statements coming from the Kurdish regime in Northern Iraq, which appear to reject recent overtures made by Iraq to negotiate a restoration of the automatons status quo in Kurdish regions in North Iraq, indicate that the Kurds are not acting alone in their provocations against Baghdad.
The following statements were Tweeted from Kurdish leaders in the aftermath of a recent visit of Iraq’s Parliamentary Speaker to Kurdish regions, which constituted Baghdad’s sincere attempt to de-escalate tensions. These statements appear to negate the atmosphere which as of last week, was tense but seemingly in the midst of a partial thaw.
There will not be any unilateral negotiation with Baghdad by either PUK or KDP. If there be any negotiation with Baghdad it will be a joint delegation representing all Kurdistan parties. KDP/PUK reject any demands to nullify the referendum results. Refuse preconditions
— Hemin Hawrami (@heminhawrami) October 15, 2017
The Meeting in Dukan between KDP/ PUK ended. Good news on reiterating our national unity in the face of all pressure. Our readiness to reach peaceful resolution for current standoff in all area. Rejecting military option, but ready to defend.
— Hemin Hawrami (@heminhawrami) October 15, 2017
Over the last 48 hours, events have intensified in northern Iraq, as Iraqi forces have started to re-establish control over the city of Kirkuk, which was unilaterally claimed as part of a would-be Kurdish state by the regime in Erbil, during the unilateral secession referendum held on the 25th of September, 2017.
Iraq’s positions is that any act of Kurdish secession is illegal and furthermore, a serious security threat to the Iraqi state and wider region. Furthermore, Iraq will never recognise Kirkuk as part of a Kurdish autonomous region, nor will the local Arab and Turkomen populations of Kirkuk who have all rallied behind Iraq, in a unique display of inter-sect (Sunni and Shi’a) and inter-ethnic unity in Iraq.
As Turkish President Erdogan has correctly stated; with Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Damascus, all in opposition to Kurdish secession in northern Iraq, there is simply no way for a would-be Kurdish statelet in northern Iraq to logistically nor economically survive. With Iran, Turkey and Iraq threatening to embargo and effectively besiege such an entity, were it to be unilaterally proclaimed, the only hope for such a so-called “Kurdistan” would be if it had external support from a non-bordering state.
A quick examination of the states technically capable of and politically willing to supply such a Kurdish entity, while overcoming the military might of Iran and Turkey, quickly points to only one power. This is the United States. Both in terms of its technical might and its track record of defying all norms of diplomatic relations, Washington is uniquely placed to aid a would-be Kurdistan built on Iraqi soil, in defiance of the entire region, except for Israel, which would almost certainly continue to provide support for Iraqi Kurds, especially if doing so along with the US. Russia and China by contrast, have firmly committed themselves to the territorial unity of Iraq.
Even by American standards, Washington is caught between a rock and a hard place in respect of a would be Kurdish entity in Iraq. On the one hand, if the United States were to defy Baghdad, it would mean that Iraq would become ever more detached from the already pessimistic nature of its cooperation with the United States. Simultaneous to this, Baghdad would almost certainly move even closer to Iran in terms of security cooperation, economic cooperation and a broader geo-political alignment.
The danger is that, with Iraq still recovering from years of invasion, occupation and terrorism, that radical voices, such as that of the apparently influential, though unhinged Nikki Haley, would press for a US intervention on behalf of Israeli geo-political ambitions, in order to bolster Kurds in Iraq. This would constitute a new stage of the ongoing proxy war against Iran and one which would increasingly and inevitably also grow into a conflict with Turkey, in spite of Turkey’s continued, however grudging NATO membership.
As I wrote yesterday in The Duran:
“Iraq’s present geo-political position is that of the only country in the world where the two most influential countries inside its borders are the United States and Iran. To put this in perspective, imagine a country where the two most influential powers, each with its own troops working with various factions of such a state’s army, were Japan and North Korea.
But this is the awkward reality of modern Iraq, a country whose armed forces coordinate airstrikes with the USA and where in other parts of the country, on the same day, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, train Iraqi troops and Popular Mobilization Units to fight terrorism. What’s more is that Iraq has recently approached Iran to sign a wide ranging military security pact. All the while, the US maintains multiple military bases in Iraq, in addition to an embassy in Baghdad that is better described as a military fortress.
If the US was intent on ‘containing’ Iran at all costs or even maintain a power in the Middle East with a track record of not being afraid of Iran, the US could have simply continued to fund and arm Saddam Hussein. In rejecting Saddam and engaging in illegal regime change, the US severely underestimated the potential of a post-Ba’athist Iraq not to devolve into a battle ground of identity politics, one in which sheer mathematics would dictate more pro-Iranian factions than any other.
Now, the US is stuck in the rut that is contemporary Iraq. On the one hand, Iraq has been a major material investment for the US. This is one of the leading explanations for why the US condemned the recent Kurdish secession referendum in northern Iraq. Where Iraqi Kurds were once the go-to faction in Iraq for the US to undermine the old Ba’athist government and since 2003, a faction that the US exploited to promote a so-called ‘Iraqi success story’, today, the US wants to have its Kurdish cake and eat it too. In other words, while the US does not intend to publicly defame Iraqi Kurds, they also seek to preserve the unity of their investment called Iraq.
At least, this is what the US says in public, but privately, this may have already changed. Kurdish secessionists in Iraq decided to include the oil rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk on the map of a would-be Kurdish state, as part of the widely condemned secession referendum process. This has infuriated the Arab and Turkomen population of Kirkuk who see Kurds as attempting to annex a city which is not part of the existing autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.
Over the last 24 hours, reports from Kirkuk, detailing intense fighting between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga militia. have been flowing in, albeit under the radar due to the media focusing more acutely on Donald Trump’s anti-Iran speech. While most Arab sources describe the battles as being fought between Iraqi Troops and Peshmerga, Kurdish outlets speak of clashes between a “foreign backed Iraqi army” along with Shi’a forces versus Peshmerga.
Thus one sees that generally pro-western and clearly pro-Israel Kurdish writers are proliferating a narrative where a foreign power, meaning Iran, is backing Shi’a Iraqis in a fight against Kurds.
The clear intention is to send the world a false message the the current fights in Kirkuk are an Iranian proxy battle against ‘wholesome Iraqi Kurds’. In reality, when reading between the liens, even in Kurdish propaganda outlets, one realises that the majority Shi’a Iraq army, the Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkomen of Kirkuk, are all united behind the Iraqi flag against the Kurdish flag. In this sense, a battle which Kurds are trying to paint as a proxy sectarian war, is actually a rare example of Iraqi unity between Arabs and Turkomen, Shi’a and Sunni.
Thus, one sees the blueprint as well as the folly of the US and Israel’s real proxy war against Iran. Having failed in Syria and Lebanon, Iraq is the place where anti-Iranian forces will continue and likely ramp up their long-term anti-Tehran proxy war.
Whereas ISIS failed to destroy Iraq and also failed to limit Iranian influence on Iraq, the Kurds in Iraq will likely be the next proxy force used to attempt and draw Iran into a new conflict in Iraq. In the coming weeks and months, the headlines in fake news outlets warning of an ‘Iran/Hezbollah plot to take over Syria’, will likely be replaced with stories of ‘Iranian terrorists committing atrocities against Iraqi Kurds’. Of course, the more this strategy fails on the battle field, the more absurd the fake news stories will get, just as fake stories about Syrian chemical weapons tend to appear every time Damascus scores a substantial victory against al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The problem with the new plan for more proxy wars with Iran in Iraq, is that in the process, many Iraqi Arabs, as well as Iraqi Turkomen, may revive a pan-Iraqi identity in the process. Furthermore, if pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq begin fighting for the rights of Sunni Arabs and Turkomen against Kurds, it could actually help to reconcile Iraqi Sunnis with Iraqi Shi’as.
This is the real game-plan against Iran and while it is a dangerous one, it ultimately will not be an effective one. In many ways, it may even be less effective than the attempt to use ISIS and other Takfiri groups to draw Iran into a losing war in the Arab world. Here, the opposite has happened, Iran has worked with legal state partners to cooperate and ultimately secure victory against Takfiri jihadists.
When and if the conflicts in Iraq finally end, the only question remaining will be: What to do with the deeply unpopular US bases in Iraq? There are only two options:
1. Perpetual stalemate
2. A 1975 Vietnam style withdrawal
The United States plans to end Iranian power in Iraq, but it is becoming increasingly likely that Iraq will instead be the graveyard of US hegemony. In many ways, it already is”.
In this sense the ongoing Battle of Kirkuk is already a test of Iraqi unity versus Kurdish forces. This combined with Kurdish unwillingness to negotiate with a still surprisingly malleable Baghdad, would appear to indicate that the Kurds are biding their time and waiting to see if external support will come there way. Because of the vast American presence in Iraq, this ‘external’ support wouldn’t even be logistically difficult for the US, certainly not at first anyway. It would however represented a geo-political pivot that could have seismic effects on the position of the US in the wider Middle East.
Either the Kurds are once again hoping against hope and simply wishing for direct US assistance or they know something the rest of the world can only guess at. It is increasingly possible that the Kurds realise that contrary to US public statements in support of Iraq’s territorial unity, that a secret plan is being hatched to help Kurds secede from Iraq. In doing this, the US would also be hoping to drag Iran and Turkey into the Iraqi quagmire that was first authored by the US, Israel and Britain in 2003.
The entire scenario is dangerous beyond conventional belief, but it is looking ever more likely that such a storm may be brewing.