Time has come to re­draw Middle East bound­aries

Barzani claims era of Sykes-Pi­cot is over and a new pact is needed for West Asia

The Kurdish Globe - - FRONT PAGE -

Pres­i­dent Mas­soud Barzani an­nounces the lib­er­a­tion of Sin­jar, Iraq, from Isis in Novem­ber 2015.

The Pres­i­dent of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan has called on global lead­ers to ac­knowl­edge that the Sykes-Pi­cot pact that led to the bound­aries of the mod­ern West Asia has failed, and urged them to bro­ker a new deal paving the way for a Kur­dish state.

Mas­soud Barzani, who has led the trou­bled coun­try’s Kurds for the past decade, said the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity had started to ac­cept that Iraq and Syria in par­tic­u­lar would never again be uni­fied and that “com­pul­sory co-ex­is­tence” in the re­gion had been proven wrong.

“I think that within them­selves, [world lead­ers] have come to this con­clu­sion that the era of Sykes-Pi­cot is over,” Mr. Barzani told the Guardian. “Whether they say it or not, ac­cept it or not, the re­al­ity on the ground is that. But as you know, di­plo­mats are con­ser­va­tives and they give their as­sess­ment in the late stages of things. And some­times they can’t even keep up with de­vel- op­ments.” The political map of north­ern Iraq has changed dras­ti­cally in the 18 months since Is­lamic State over­ran Iraq’s se­cond largest city, Mo­sul. Kur­dish forces are now in full con­trol of Kirkuk and Sin­jar and have claimed con­trol of thou­sands more miles of land that had been un­der con­trol of Iraq’s cen­tral govern­ment.

Now, four months be­fore the cen­ten­nial of the Sykes-Pi­cot agree­ment un­der which Bri­tain and France carved spheres of in­flu­ence from the ru­ins of the Ot­toman Em­pire, Mr. Barzani said main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo would en­sure fur­ther re­gional dis­in­te­gra­tion and de­struc­tion.

He said in­de­pen­dence, which has been the cen­tre­piece of Kur­dish am­bi­tions for decades but has been fiercely op­posed by sus­pi­cious re­gional neigh­bours, was “now closer than at any other time”. Coun­tries that had long been against the move were be­ing swayed by the claim that sovereignty within the cur­rent bor­ders of the Kur­dish re­gional govern­ment could in­stead bring clar­ity, he said.

Over the past 10 years, an al­ready ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ship with Bagh­dad has been shred­ded. Iraqi lead­ers have been par­tic­u­larly an­gered by the seizure of Kirkuk, which has seen Er­bil di­rect the flow of the city’s oil to its pipe­line spread­ing north to Turkey. Er­bil, mean­while, had seen its pre­scribed share of cen­tral bud­get rev­enues slashed be­fore it took the city, beat­ing IS in a race for con­trol in the days fol­low­ing Mo­sul’s fall.

Mr. Barzani said re­gional and global pow­ers now needed to en­shrine a new pact that would pro­tect com­mu­ni­ties in Iraq and Syria, where divi­sions have be­come en­trenched on so­cio-religious and sec­tar­ian lines. “There must be a [new] agree­ment, it is im­por­tant to see what type of agree­ment it is, what mech­a­nism it can bring and rely on to for­mal­ize things, and what will be its sta­tus. When the for­mal­iza­tion of that agree­ment will be is not known yet. It’s il­log­i­cal to con­tinue or in­sist on re­peat­ing a wrong ex­per­i­ment that was re­peated for 100 years and is lead­ing nowhere.”

“Right now, Iraq is di­vided. We are not re­spon­si­ble for it. On the con­trary, we have done our best to pre­serve Iraqi unity and a demo­cratic Iraq. In 1991, we went to Iraq and ne­go­ti­ated with those crim­i­nals that were re­spon­si­ble with the chem­i­cal bom­bard­ment, the An­fal cam­paign [launched by Sad­dam Hus­sein against the Kurds].

“Af­ter 2003, we went to Bagh­dad and tried our best through the con­sti­tu­tional process. But the ex­ist­ing cul­ture in Iraq is not one of co-ex­is­tence.

“So if we can’t live to­gether we have to live with other al­ter­na­tives.” Mr. Barzani had an­nounced he would push for in­de­pen­dence on July 1, 2014, the first time a Kur­dish leader had pledged to do so af­ter decades of armed strug­gle, civil war and dis­place­ment.

The an­nounce­ment was meant to lead to a ref­er­en­dum, but it failed to gen­er­ate mo­men­tum and was soon sub­sumed by the IS ad­vance on Er­bil, and the wors­en­ing cri­sis in Iraq and Syria.

Pho­to­graph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Im­ages

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