As Barzani heads for talks with Obama, has the battle against the Is­lamic State served to unify Iraq or merely un­der­scored its di­vi­sion?

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

mence an of­fi­cial visit to the US where will meet both Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den. Barzani’s visit comes soon af­ter the visit of Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi.

The fight against IS is likely to dom­i­nate the agenda, but ac­cord­ing to state­ments by Fuad Hus­sein, the chief of staff to the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG) pres­i­dency, the is­sue of in­de­pen­dence will also be dis­cussed.

The no­tion of Kur­dish state­hood at a sen­si­tive time in the strug­gle against IS is hardly mu­sic to Obama’s ears. On the con­trary, the Wash­ing­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion has tried hard in re­cent months to re­in­force the prin­ci­ple of a “uni­fied fed­eral, plu­ral­is­tic and demo­cratic Iraq”. Key to this has been co­or­di­nat­ing coali­tion’s ef­forts and weapons sup­plies via the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Barzani is likely to re­peat the calls for more arms but the US tip-toe­ing around Bagh­dad has been a big hin­drance.

A great ex­am­ple was the re­cent in­ter­na­tional anti-IS con­fer­ence in Lon­don, where de­spite their cru­cial role in the fight against IS, the Kurds were not even rep­re­sented in the con­fer­ence as the pres­ence of al-Abadi was deemed suf­fi­cient to rep­re­sent all Iraqis.

A key con­di­tion of the US in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq last year was the ouster of for­mer Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki and the on­set of a more lib­eral and in­clu­sive gov­ern­ment. In fact na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and unity has been a com­mon theme of the US list since 2003.

A US spokes­woman con­firmed that Barzani’s visit will in­clude talks on Wed­nes­day with Deputy Sec­re­tary of State Tony Blinken to dis­cuss "the com­bined cam­paign to de­grade and ul­ti­mately de­stroy ISIL.”

A key lit­mus test will be the lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul. But this is not with­out its own per­ils. Ul­ti­mately, it must be Sunni sen­ti­ment and the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion that play the key role in driv­ing out IS in con­junc­tion with the Iraqi army.

And this is where Iraqi fault lines are best summed up. It is the Shia mili­tias that are ar­guably the strong­est force at the dis­posal of Bagh­dad and their pres­ence in Mo­sul is hardly go­ing to bode well for the lo­cals.

The Kurds, who have shoul­dered tremen­dous sac­ri­fices in largely lib­er­at­ing Kur­dish ar­eas, will have lit­tle ap­petite to lead the charge in Arab dom­i­nated ar­eas such as Mo­sul but will ul­ti­mately still play a key sup­port role.

Once IS is driven out, who is then re­spon­si­ble for the se­cu­rity and pol­icy of the area? With­out Sunni con­trol over se­cu­rity, any Shia or Kur­dish con­trol of Mo­sul will sim­ply stoke fur­ther un­rest.

This ul­ti­mately leads to the ques­tion of arm­ing Sun­nis and cre­at­ing an of­fi­cial Sunni force. Whilst it may be ef­fec­tive in the short-term, it will merely deepen the frac­tures in the Iraqi state.

Re­gard­less of whether Obama en­ter­tains the no­tion of for­mal Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence or US in­sis­tence that the battle against IS has some­what served to unify Iraqi ranks, IS has merely served to un­der­score the di­vi­sion of Iraq.

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