“I do not expect to receive active assistance or resistance [from Turkey with regard to an independent Kurdish state],” Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper on Monday.
As the politicians in Baghdad send no clear signals on keeping Iraq unified, Iraqi Kurds are firmly preparing the groundwork for a new state. Much has not been heard beyond the surface of mumblings coming from the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) top figures, and what appears to be timid objections to the build-up to an independent Kurdistan out of a dismembered Iraq may be illusory.
“It now seems safe to say that if the Iraqi Kurdish regional government declared independence, Ankara would be the first capital to recognize it. In today’s Middle East, in other words, [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] ISIL is a bigger threat to the Turks than Kurdish independence in Iraq,” wrote Soner Çağaptay, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in Foreign Affairs Magazine.
Time, he argues, has helped events to bring about a Turkish-Kurdish axis. “Kurds have already begun exporting their oil through a pipeline running west to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan,” reminded John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA, in the digital magazine Ozy. “Access to that oil could not only make Kurdistan independent — but also a wealthy, more secure independent state.”
He offered some simple arguments: “Turkey, hungry for oil, likes the prospect of a friendly oil supplier on its border. A Kurdish state could actually serve it well, providing a buffer of sorts for Turkey, who has been the victim of harsh al-Qaeda attacks in the past, against the chaos further South.”
McLaughlin continued: “A Kurdish state would likely get cozy with the US too, they’re already coming to the US to request weapons and military support. And here’s a big idea — Kurds could eventually offer the US bases in exchange for that aid. Which would mean a foothold for Washington, a secure location other than — or in addition to — Baghdad, from which to attack al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.”
There are now several official rumblings by regional and global players. As Israel made clear that Kurdistan as an independent state is a good idea, Russia yesterday indicated that it may be inevitable, leaving the door open for much bargaining.
Iran is louder in rejecting such an idea. Joining Tehran, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the MENA news agency: “The referendum that the Kurds are asking for now is in reality no more than the start of a catastrophic division of Iraq into smaller rival states.”
But the truth may lie in what Rudaw, the Kurdish news network, has found out. It has reported that “the United States, France, Italy, Britain, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are among states that have told the (Kurdish) officials that, if Kurdistan declares independence, they would show understanding.”
No matter how much we avoid the usual double talk from Ankara and examine further the utterly complex issue of Iraq and Syria today, the picture of happily-ever-after concluded by Çağaptay in his detailed analysis may require a lot of caution.
Turkey is the regional actor with the most arduous of tasks: It has to deal with its long-overdue Kurdish and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issues with the utmost care so that it does not lead to internal unrest between Kurds and Turks, now entrenching themselves along nationalist lines. The ruling AK Party also has to make clear how it intends to approach ISIL and other extreme Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria.
There are signs of divisions in Ankara about priorities. But one thing is clear: It was Erdoğan who personally made a mess out of all the aspects of the “zero problem with neighbors” doctrine, and it is now his last chance to make it a success at least in northern Iraq.
All the analyses put forward so far on Kurdish independence here and there seem to fail to note one key player: Iran. Its harsh objection to a state of Kurdistan reveals how sensitive a matter Iran’s Kurds and their relations with a prospective Kurdistan in Iraq is for Tehran.
It is telling of how open the field has become for bargaining, on all levels. As of today, an independent Kurdistan seems likely only with the agreement of “guarantor powers,” which would have to include Turkey, Russia, the US, the EU and perhaps Israel.
No agreement among these powers about ISIL means no stability for Kurdistan.