e Fall of Kirkuk

The Amherst News - - COMMUNITY - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

Two big cities fell within 24 hours of each other last week­end. e fall of Raqqa in Syria, once the cap­i­tal of all the ter­ri­tory ruled by ISIS, came af­ter a ve­month siege and was no sur­prise at all. e fall of the Kur­dish-held city of Kirkuk in Iraq took less than a day and came as a com­plete sur­prise.

Pos­ses­sion of Kirkuk was crit­i­cal for the project of Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence, be­cause it was the source of most of the oil that would have made an in­de­pen­dent Kur­dish state in north­ern Iraq eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

e Kurds of Iraq came tan­ta­lis­ingly close to re­al­is­ing their dream of in­de­pen­dence. Since the rst Gulf War of 1990, ve Kur­dish-ma­jor­ity prov­inces in north­ern Iraq have been ruled by the Kur­dish Re­gional Govern­ment (KRG), which had Amer­i­can sup­port be­cause it op­posed Sad­dam Hus­sein’s tyran­ni­cal regime. at Amer­i­can sup­port con­tin­ued even af­ter the US in­va­sion that nally over­threw Sad­dam in 2003.

e new govern­ment the US cre­ated in Bagh­dad had no con­trol over the KRG, and the wouldbe Kur­dish state al­most dou­bled its ter­ri­tory by tak­ing over the other prov­inces with Kur­dish ma­jori­ties, in­clud­ing oil-rich Kirkuk, af­ter the Iraqi army ed in panic be­fore a suprise ISIS o en­sive in 2014. ree weeks ago, the Kur­dish govern­ment even held a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence in both its old and its new ter­ri­to­ries.

But then Iran, which is wor­ried about the loy­alty of its own large Kur­dish mi­nor­ity just across the bor­der from Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, de­cided it was time to take the

Kurds down a peg or three. As the great­est Shia power, Iran ef­fec­tively con­trols a lot of the sec­tar­ian mili­tias that make up the new Iraqi army, and the Bagh­dad govern­ment was happy to act as its proxy.

e KRG’s pres­i­dent, Ma­soud Barzani, prob­a­bly as­sumed that Amer­i­can sup­port would shield him from Iraqi re­tal­i­a­tion when he called the ref­er­en­dum, but it didn’t. When Bagh­dad sent its troops in on Sun­day, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion merely mut­tered some weasel words about not lik­ing to see friends fight, and by Wed­nes­day morn­ing the area con­trolled by the KRG had shrunk by al­most half.

Only months ago the Iraqi Kurds were fight­ing along­side the Iraqi army in the strug­gle to free Mo­sul from ISIS con­trol, and the Syr­ian Kurds have been the main Amer­i­can ally in the ght to de­stroy ISIS in Syria. But once ISIS was de­feated those al­liances were bound to end: be­tray­ing the Kurds is a old Mid­dle Eastern tra­di­tion. e only sur­prise is how fast it has hap­pened, and how com­pre­hen­sively the Kurds have lost.

There are about 30 mil­lion Kurds, but they live on ter­ri­tory that be­longs to four of the most pow­er­ful states in the Mid­dle East: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. ey have been seek­ing an in­de­pen­dent Kur­dish state for a cen­tury now, but all the coun­tries that stand to lose large amounts of ter­ri­tory if it ever ac­tu­ally hap­pened are pro­foundly op­posed to that out­come.

More­over, the Kurds them­selves have never re­ally been united, even within the borders of the KRG. In prac­tice, con­trol of the ter­ri­tory has al­ways been split be­tween fac­tions cen­tred on the Barzani or the Tal­a­bani clans. Each fac­tion has its own mili­tia, and they even fought a civil war that killed thou­sands in the mid 1990s.

There was no joint de­fence of Kirkuk when the Iraqi army nally moved. In­deed, there was hardly any de­fence at all; rst the Tal­a­bani forced pulled out, and then Barzani’s troops had no op­tion but to fol­low. e Kur­dish dream of in­de­pen­dence is at an end, and the Kurds will be lucky if they man­age to keep even the au­ton­omy they have en­joyed in Iraq since 1991.

In­deed, they will be lucky if can avoid an­other civil war over who is to blame for the catas­tro­phe (from the Kur­dish point of view) of the past few days.

On Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Barzani gave a speech that said, pre­sum­ably about the Tal­a­bani fac­tion: “ ey want to drag us into a civil war, but we will in no way be do­ing this.”

But a lot of Kurds blame him and his ref­er­en­dum for pro­vok­ing the dis­as­ter, and they will be look­ing for some­body to pun­ish.

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