A Kurdish autonomous entity stronger and more assertive, but still in nominal confederacy with Iraq is the utmost the landlocked nation can reasonably seek at present. It will be sufficiently beneficial to the West and desirably disturbing to those who deserve to be disturbed.
They “all” agreed, it appears, on the destabilizing regional repercussions of the independence referendum, which the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Northern Iraq called late in August and carried through on September 25th.
But who is “all”, after all? They are Syria’s obscene, murderous regime, its patrons and accomplices in crime Russia and Iran —along with its AL-Qods legion, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and pro-Iranian Sadrist militias, great contributors all to the initial success of the “Islamic State” in the Sunni North-western Iraqi provinces, which they had terribly oppressed—, Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey —undergoing a process of genetic mutation and seeking a de facto revision of the territorial arrangements in Mesopotamia of the Treaty of Laussane—, the Shia led central government of Baghdad —still a client of Iran rather than of anyone else—, and the United States.
The Iraqi Government’s opposition to Kurdish independence would have been self-explicable even without Iran’s iron grip on the country. No state can be expected to welcome the secession of any part of its territory no matter how it may have provoked it. As to the United States, its opposition to the Kurdish referendum can certainly be understood in terms of political correctness vis a vis its —by now rather odd— ally, Turkey, and concern for the stability of Mr. Abadi’s Iraqi government, lest the latter would fall entirely under Iranian control.
However, understandable as American disapproving statements may be in such terms of political correctness, it would be unfortunate it they are seriously meant. Kurdish independence can hardly destabilize Iraq any more than Iranian interference did, during those disastrous years under Mr. Maliki’s government, after the almost total withdrawal of US Forces. Nor can one reasonably expect to remove Iraq from where it is now, deep under Tehran’s sway, and stabilize it individually.
Russian, Syrian Allewite, Iranian, Hezbollah, Sadrist and ISIS genocidal regional thuggery and brigandage must be defeated regionally, together with rampant Turkish territorial revisionism. Such a multiple strategic goal could be admirably served by an independent Kurdish state on the territories now controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government of Arbyl.
A staunchly secular, pro-Western, economically viable and militarily credible state, emerging in that corner of Mesopotamia would be ideally situated to perform many useful tasks : support Syria’s Kurdish enclaves, thus contributing to the sustainable destabilization of the atrocious regime of Damascus and keeping its Russian mentors under constant pressure; hamper Iran’s reach to the Mediterranean —and, perhaps, even encourage increasing defiance to Tehran’s theocracy among Kurdish populations in Northern Iran; oppose a secular and consistent force to both, Shia militias in Iraq and an Iraqi army which will always be to some degree, if not totally, under Iranian control; and last but not least, to block erratic Turkish territorial opportunism.
It could never have been a simple matter for the US —or, when all is said done, for the “West”—, to address the mess witch President Obama’s timidity to intervene in Syria, two years ago, had caused to emerge all over the Mesopotamian space; it is no longer easy to contain the combined threat posed to the region by a sanctions-free –and as regionally ambitious as ever– Iran, and an ever more aggressive Russia –a lethal pair of spoilers whom the previous US Administration had, almost incredibly, allowed, for so long, to act undeterred, with utter impunity, in defence of their Syrian client.
It is hardly of any use to cry over spilt milk, thinking of what could have been the image of the entire Fertile Crescent hadn’t the combat mission of US forces in Iraq been terminated so soon after the defeat of the Sunni insurgency, leaving Shia militias almost intact; if the enduring presence of sizable US combat formations had been maintained as originally planned; if Iraq had not been left to the mercy of its own Shia militias and Tehran’s Al-Qods legion; if the US had, in 2014, imposed a non-flight zone in Syria, pre-empting the subsequent intervention of Russian forces.
Nor is it serving any practical purpose to discover now that Iran was left off the hook of sanctions too easily. Much though one feels embarrassed at the risk of voicing opinions which might be misunderstood as echoing. President Trump’s obsessive rants, it is, nevertheless, true that the scope of the deal was too narrow: once the consolidation of an almost universal sanctions front had become possible in the name of nuclear non-proliferation, it should have been maintained, by the Westerners at least, with a view to inflict such economic suffocation on Tehran’s theocratic regime as to attain either its implosion, or its resignation to a deal combining severe terms on the nuclear issue with its expulsion from Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Kurdish independence if judiciously arrived at –timing and the issue of Kirkuk require extreme prudence–, could, potentially, mitigate the consequences of many an error of the past decade. Destabilizing all the main destabilizers and instigators of violence in the region will not destabilize it, but rather give it new stability.
For the time being though, Kurdish independence can only remain as a final broader geopolitical goal. The short term objective for the KRG must be to strengthen and consolidate its position, both in Iraq and in the region, and become an even more effective substitute to an independent Kurdish state than it is now. This must have been the only realistic purpose of last month’s non-binding referendum.
The US and the “West” in general must strongly sustain the KRG in its bargaining with its unsavoury neighbours. The government of Baghdad is weak and cannot get all it needs from its co-religionists of Tehran. Mr. Abadi in Iraq is likely to be rather more transigent on the Kurdish question than either of Iran or Mr. Erdogan —despite the volume of Turkish investment in and income flow from Kurdish Iraq.
The KRG should not precipitate. They do not need to be maximalistic at this stage. A Kurdish regional entity, stronger and more assertive, but still in nominal confederacy with Arab Iraq is the utmost the landlocked nation can reasonably seek at present. It will be sufficiently beneficial to the West and desirably disturbing to some who in various ways deserve to be disturbed.
But in the meantime, preparative work should continue. The pieces of the dilapidated Syrian mosaic will not be stabilized at any time too soon. It is not unthinkable that a Kurdish corridor to the sea could, eventually, be traced through it…