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
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.