2003: the year of living dangerously. When the problems of the Middle Eastern state of Iraq began in earnest, the United States of America invaded, Ba’athist President Saddam Hussein was ousted (then executed) and finally a seemingly endless deluge started flowing on the country.
In the beginning of the Iraq War, there had been a few proposals according to which Baghdad would have been better off if split into three separate but equal states. The proposals were axed in favor of keeping the country intact, as I pointed out in an op-ed I wrote last year for Ace News Room.
Ongoing tensions between Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) look like they’re going to be getting much worse today, with Kifah Mahmoud, an adviser to the Kurdish president, reporting that the KRG has agreed to a referendum on declaring independence from Iraq.
The Kurds have had long-standing ambitions to secede from Iraq, and officials have talked up the idea of withdrawing from Iraq as soon as the war with ISIS is over. The US has opposed this, saying they want a “unified” Iraq.
The biggest question arising from a possible secession of the KRG is what territory they’ll take with them, as early in the ISIS war they seized key oil-producing regions, including Kirkuk, and more recently have been expelling Arabs from the Sinjar area to try to make it a Kurdish-Yazidi dominated region too.
Iraqi Kurds are a key partner to the White House in the war against the al-Baghdadi-led, self-styled Islamic State and have been some of the most effective forces fighting the jihadists, most of whose military leaders come from the dissolved Saddam’s (secular) army. But both the referendum on independence – which Iraq’s federal government fiercely opposes – and the issue of which areas it covers will raise tensions between the autonomous Kurdish region and Baghdad, potentially complicating anti-Daesh efforts.
This could be the beginning of the slow demise of Iraq as a nation, to be broken down by ethnic lines. What will be next? The Assyrian population demanding their own homeland? How about the Chaldean Christian population or the Yazidis? Where will this slow erosion end?
It goes without saying, Iraq has its huge problems. But why compound them with this situation? Besides, there are some that are not confident that the Kurds will be all that loyal to the cause. For instance, so says the Institute for the Study of War:
American over-reliance on Kurdish forces as the primary ground partner in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) threatens the long-term success of the anti-ISIS campaign. The U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition currently provides extensive military support to Kurds in both Iraq and Syria through weapons shipments, advisory missions, and close air support. This cooperation has enabled Kurdish forces to seize large swaths of territory from ISIS throughout 2015, including the majority of the Syrian-Turkish border and key terrain in the vicinity of Mosul. U.S. President Barack Obama lauded the gains as a demonstration of what can be accomplished “when [the U.S.] has an effective partner on the ground.” This partnership, however, faces two fundamental pitfalls that challenge broader U.S. national security objectives.First, the U.S.-led air campaign in Syria supports the expansion of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization that has conducted an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. This cooperation threatens to drive Turkey away from deeper coordination with the anti- ISIS coalition.Second, the U.S. risks fueling long-term ethnic conflict in both Iraq and Syria due to the relative empowerment of the Kurds at the expense of other local powerbrokers, often Sunni Arabs. These pitfalls could promote future regional disorder and prevent the U.S. from successfully degrading and destroying ISIS.