Syr­ian, Iraqi Kurds main suf­fer­ers of failed US, KRG poli­cies

Kur­dish peo­ple in Syria and Iraq have been suf­fer­ing the most from the mis­cal­cu­la­tions of the U.S. and the Barzani-led KRG con­cern­ing the fu­ture of the re­gion, ex­perts say, un­der­lin­ing that Kurds are now stuck be­tween un­cer­tainty and chaos

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page -

THE U.S. strat­egy to back the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF), dom­i­nated by the PKK ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Syria af­fil­i­ate, the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Union (PYD) and its armed wing, the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), un­der the pre­text of the fight against Daesh, and led by Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov- ern­ment (KRG) Pres­i­dent Ma­soud Barzani’s push for an in­de­pen­dent state in north­ern Iraq with the Sept. 25 ref­er­en­dum, have left Kurds in Syria and Iraq to once again be­come the vic­tims of wrong poli­cies in the re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, the sit­u­a­tion for Kur­dish peo­ple, both in Syria and in Iraq, as a re­sult of wrong poli­cies, have led to the emer­gence of an­tipa­thy against Kurds, as the U.S. and the KRG took sig­nif­i­cant steps, de­spite lo­cal and re­gional bal­ances and sen­si­tiv­i­ties. The Kurds in Syria suf­fer from the PYD’s op­pres­sive meth­ods based on an ortho­dox Marx­ist-Lenin­ist ide­ol­ogy, in­clud­ing at­tacks on op­po­si­tion Kur­dish voices, in­vol­un­tary mil­i­tary ser­vice, in ad­di­tion to de­mo­graphic changes and forced re­lo­ca­tion of other Turk­men and Arab mi­nori­ties.

THE KURDS in north­ern Iraq, due to Barzani’s per­sis­tence on hold­ing the in­de­pen­dence vote, are now deal­ing with in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty, as well as se­vere eco­nomic sanc­tions, as a re­sult of op­po­si­tion from neigh­bor­ing states and tur­moil emerg­ing from in­sta­ble se­cu­rity and or­der.


Although some an­a­lysts blame the lack of sup­port by the U.S. and harsh stance from re­gional ac­tors against Barzani for the post-ref­er­en­dum fail­ure of the Ir­bil ad­min­is­tra­tion, many oth­ers dis­agree, say­ing Barzani’s in­sis­tence on hold­ing the Sept. 25 vote, based on per­sonal am­bi­tions de­spite strong op­po­si­tion from the lo­cal, re­gional and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has led to chaos for Kurds in north­ern Iraq.

Daniel Ser­wer, a pro­fes­sor at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, as well as a Se­nior Fel­low in the Cen­ter for Transat­lantic Re­la­tions and a Scholar at the Mid­dle East In­sti­tute, says the in­de­pen­dence vote was not a cal­cu­lated step, as Barzani “failed to ap­pre­ci­ate the depth of Bagh­dad, Tehran, Ankara and Wash­ing­ton op­po­si­tion to KRG moves to­ward in­de­pen­dence.

With re­gard to the ref­er­en­dum, “In­stead of bur­nish­ing the na­tion­al­ist cre­den­tials of Ma­soud Barzani, the pres­i­dent of the Kur­dis­tan Re­gion, and strength­en­ing the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment’s (KRG) lever­age with Bagh­dad, it has done just the op­po­site,” says Denise Natali, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Strate­gic Re­search at the In­sti­tute for Na­tional Strate­gic Stud­ies at Na­tional De­fense Univer­sity.

This ar­gu­ment has been voiced mainly due to crit­i­cal voices also com­ing from Kurds in north­ern Iraq, par­tic­u­larly from the Gor­ran Move­ment and also the Tal­a­bani-led Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan (PUK) in the Su­lay­maniyah re­gion. In fact, af­ter the re­ported ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the PUK, which has the tra­di­tion of Ira­nian sup­port, and the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, there has been spec­u­la­tion that the new po­lit­i­cal cen­ter of the KRG will be Su­lay­maniyah, not Ir­bil.

Ser­wer says this was an­other mo­ment of fail­ure for Barzani, as he “over-es­ti­mated po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary co­he­sion within the KRG, where the PUK was not on board for mak­ing Barzani a great na­tional hero by en­abling him to take credit for in­de­pen­dence.”

Natali, who is among the lead­ing ex­perts in Wash­ing­ton on the is­sue, adds that Barzani’s ref­er­en­dum move has “deep­ened in­tra-Kur­dish di­vi­sions, which played in Bagh­dad’s fa­vor. Over time, some Kur­dish of­fi­cials, mainly those in the Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan [PUK] grew in­creas­ingly con­cerned about warn­ings from Bagh­dad, Turkey, and Iran.”

Com­ment­ing on the U.S. po­si­tion over op­po­si­tion to the KRG vote, Johns Hop­kins scholar Ser­wer says: “The most it [the U.S.] can do for the Kurds in their con­flict with Bagh­dad is to un­der­line Amer­i­can com­mit­ment to Kur­dish au­ton­omy within the con­text of the Iraqi con­sti­tu­tion, which means sup­port for Bagh­dad in rolling back Kur­dish forces from ar­eas they took af­ter 2003.”

A re­cent re­port pub­lished by the Cri­sis Group, “Oil and Bor­ders: How to Fix Iraq’s Kur­dish Cri­sis,” also crit­i­cized Barzani’s move, say­ing he “over­played the Kur­dish hand by press­ing ahead with the ref­er­en­dum over the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s near-unan­i­mous ob­jec­tions and re­fus­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Bagh­dad about any­thing ex­cept Kur­dish in­de­pen­dence.”

Yes­ter­day, Barzani dis­solved his pow­ers as pres­i­dent, dis­tribut­ing them be­tween the Kur­dish prime min­is­ter, Par­lia­ment and the ju­di­ciary, Barzani's se­nior as­sis­tant, Hemin Hawrami told The As­so­ci­ated Press (AP).

Hawrami added that the KRG pres­i­dent also in­formed par­lia­ment that he will not seek an ex­ten­sion of his term which is set to ex­pire Nov. 1, adding that Barzani could re­main in of­fice if man­dated to hold the post un­til the next Kur­dish pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are held, which were sup­pose to be held on Nov. 1, but are now post­poned in­def­i­nitely. Ac­cord­ing to AP re­port, Hawrami added that Barzani did not "step down" and "will stay in Kur­dish pol­i­tics and lead the high po­lit­i­cal coun­cil."

On Satur­day, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said that Barzani would not ex­tend his pres­i­den­tial term be­yond Nov. 1, while the KRG Par­lia­ment was ex­pected to meet yes­ter­day to re­dis­tribute the pow­ers of the pres­i­dent. Last week, the KRG par­lia­ment an­nounced that the pre­vi­ously an­nounced Nov. 1 elec­tions were post­poned for eight months.

The main op­po­si­tion party in the re­gion, the Gor­ran Move­ment, called on Barzani to step down af­ter the loss of Kur­dish-con­trolled ter­ri­tory. Kur­dish MP Iden Maarouf said par­lia­ment will meet on Sun­day to see how best to "re­dis­tribute the pres­i­dent's pow­ers" among leg­isla­tive, ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties. The man­date of Barzani, the first and only elected pres­i­dent of the au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion, ex­pired in 2013. It was ex­tended for two years and then con­tin­ued in the chaos that fol­lowed Daesh's sweep­ing of­fen­sive across Iraq in 2014.

The Cri­sis Group re­port also un­der­lines that with Barzani’s in­de­pen­dence bid, and the tur­moil af­ter, in­clud­ing Bagh­dad tak­ing over all dis­puted ar­eas con­trolled by Ir­bil, has led to “set back the cause of Kur­dis­tan in­stead of ad­vanc­ing it by frit­ter­ing away in­ter­na­tional good­will for the Kur­dish cause.”

Can Acun, a Mid­dle East ex­pert at the Ankara-based Foun­da­tion for Po­lit­i­cal, Eco­nomic and So­cial Re­search (SETA) think tank, who also ob­served de­vel­op­ments dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum, said Ir­bil’s mis­cal­cu­lated in­sis­tence has led to ma­jor eco­nomic losses for the peo­ple in north­ern Iraq. “With the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion the KRG has been forced to re­turn to its 2003 bor­ders and has been los­ing trade in­come gen­er­ated through bor­der gates and oil ex­ports. The pesh­merga’s mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity, which has led to trauma for Iraqi Kurds whose na­tion­al­ist feel­ings were boosted, is now be­ing ques­tioned,” Acun said.

Since the re­cent launch of op­er­a­tions to re­take con­trol over dis­puted ar­eas, Iraqi gov­ern­ment forces have moved into sev­eral dis­puted prov­inces, in­clud­ing oil-rich Kirkuk.

Sim­i­larly, Denise Natali also ar­gues that due to lost oil rev­enues and given the KRG’s re­liance on this in­come, “This ter­ri­to­rial loss will deepen the KRG’s debts and abil­ity to re­pay in­ter­na­tional oil com­pa­nies and oil traders.”

Acun also un­der­lines that the KRG con­trol­ling po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in dis­puted ar­eas through Kur­dish na­tion­al­ism was trig­ger­ing a strong re­sponse from the Turk­men and Arab pop­u­la­tions in eth­ni­cally di­verse, dis­puted ar­eas. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment re­tak­ing con­trol over the dis­puted ar­eas from Ir­bil has, thus, led to ma­jor sat­is­fac­tion from the Turk­men and Arabs in the re­gions, Acun adds.


The U.S.’s sup­port of YPG ter­ror­ists has left Kurds suf­fer­ing from sim­i­lar con­se­quences they faced with Barzani’s aim of an in­de­pen­dent state. They are be­ing ag­o­nized with wrong poli­cies and are now seen as a threat by neigh­bor­ing states and also by other lo­cal eth­nic groups in­side Syria.

Rights groups and crit­i­cal Kur­dish groups have voiced con­cern over the PYD’s op­pres­sive meth­ods in Syria, as part of its aim to es­tab­lish an au­ton­o­mous re­gion in the north­ern part of Syria and gain ul­ti­mate con­trol over all the Kurds, many amount­ing to hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

Can Acun, a Mid­dle East ex­pert at the Ankara-based Foun­da­tion for Po­lit­i­cal, Eco­nomic and So­cial Re­search (SETA), said that with the U.S. as its main sup­porter, the PYD has been able to op­press crit­i­cal Kur­dish voices, be­gin­ning with the Kur­dish Na­tional Coun­cil (ENSK). “More than 500,000 Kurds who are crit­i­cal of the PYD were forced to seek refuge in the KRG re­gion and Turkey. In ar­eas un­der its con­trol, it has force­fully made girls and boys un­der 18 years old do mil­i­tary ser­vice, de­spite their fam­i­lies op­po­si­tion,” Acun said.

He added that de­spite be­ing rec­og­nized as a ter­ror­ist group by the U.S. and the EU, sup­port for the PKK’s af­fil­i­ate groups in Syria con­sti­tutes a threat to the peo­ple of the re­gion, as it also acts as a “narco-ter­ror­ist” group, “be­ing the main ob­sta­cle in front of de­vel­op­ment, sta­bil­ity, peace, and eco­nomic ad­vance­ment.”

The U.S. has long been crit­i­cized for the mil­i­tary sup­port it pro­vides the YPG un­der the pre­text of the fight against Daesh; the PYD has been try­ing to change the de­mo­graph­ics of the area it con­trols. Em­bold­ened by U.S. mil­i­tary aid, the ter­ror­ist group's forced mi­gra­tion of Arabs and Turk­mens, as well as ar­bi­trary ar­rests tar­get­ing crit­i­cal voices and the re­cruit­ment of child sol­diers have been cov­ered by in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights groups, in­clud­ing the Hu­man Rights Watch, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Kurd­sWatch.

De­spite Wash­ing­ton turn­ing a blind eye to the or­ganic links be­tween the PYD and the PKK, the group has openly said that the PKK’s im­pris­oned leader, Ab­dul­lah Öcalan, is the ide­o­log­i­cal force be­hind the YPG in Syria. This was clearly shown in a re­cent video re­leased by YPG ter­ror­ists af­ter Daesh was cleared from Raqqa prov­ince in Syria.

An­a­lysts also ar­gue that the lack of an exit strat­egy in part­ner­ship with the PYD, given its af­fil­i­a­tion with the PKK, a group rec­og­nized as a ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tion by the U.S., af­ter Daesh is cleared from Syria, is also a re­flec­tion of an un­cer­tain strat­egy.

“Wash­ing­ton has a big de­ci­sion to make: Leave Syria en­tirely, aban­don­ing the YPG/PYD to the whims of the Turks and [Bashar] As­sad, or stay there to re­strain Kurds from at­tack­ing Turkey and to dis­cour­age Turkey from at­tack­ing the Kurds. The op­tions are not very ap­peal­ing. The exit strat­egy is not yet clear,” Ser­wer un­der­lined.

Acun, on the other hand, ar­gued that the re­cent rap­proche­ment in the re­gion, par­tic­u­larly be­tween Tehran, Bagh­dad and Ankara over the KRG, might push Wash­ing­ton to re-eval­u­ate its strat­egy with the PYD and re­con­sider its op­tions. How­ever, he added that the U.S., given its Syria pol­icy be­ing drawn by CENTCOM and the Pen­tagon and that they have spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, it is hard to de­fine an exit strat­egy.

Ankara has re­peat­edly said it will not al­low the es­tab­lish­ment of a ter­ror­ist cor­ri­dor along its south­ern bor­ders in north­ern Syria, adding that it will do what it takes, in­clud­ing a cross bor­der op­er­a­tion if need be, as it elim­i­nated Daesh ter­ror­ists from Syr­ian towns bor­der­ing Turkey within the scope of Op­er­a­tion Euphrates Shield. In ad­di­tion, Turkey has ar­gued that the fight against Daesh should be car­ried out by part­ner­ing with lo­cal forces, rather than the YPG ter­ror­ists. As such, ul­ti­mately, the YPG’s an­tag­o­nism against Turkey through ter­ror means it is fur­ther push­ing Kurds into long-last­ing armed con­flicts in the re­gion, deep­en­ing in­sta­bil­ity and tur­moil among the re­gion’s Kurds.

An Iraqi soldier re­moves a KRG flag from Al­tun Kupri on the out­skirts of Ir­bil, Iraq, Oct. 20.

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