What you need to know about Kurdistan’s “oilocracy” independence

When, last July, Iraqi and Kurdish forces ousted the Islamic State from Mosul, many expected that their cooperation would spur a multiethnic healing process amid Sunni and Shia, and amid Arabs and Kurds. However, such hopes, were soon dashed when Mas’ud Barzani announced a non-binding pro-independence referendum for the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. As his father Mustafa, Mas’ud Barzani’s politic life is totally dedicated to the cause of Kurds independence. However, when he called the vote, was too emboldened by the success of his Kurdish Peshmerga forces against ISIS, experts said. If Masoud do not reach an agreement with Baghdad, Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) will risks an international isolation.

Last September 25, as expected electoral numbers show, Barzani gained another overwhelming victory: 92,7 percent of the electorate cast their vote in support of Kurdistan’s independence, with a high turnout at the polls of 72,6 percent, among 5.3 millions of registered voters, official authorities announced on Wednesday. However, Kurds question isn’t all peaches and dandelions.

KRI could be considered only an institution ruled mostly by nationalist parties that are not ideologically invested in faiths. Rather, during the last years, extremists in KRI have expanded significantly, and these concerns alarms for various ethnic groups. The possibility of a new deliberate forced incorporation of Arab culture and ideology into their identities is real.

Many Shabaks and Yazidis decided to stay away from the vote, avoiding the risk of an hostile religious attitudes became dominant in the future, as in the past happened. Shabaks and Yazidis are two minority communities living in north-east and north-west outskirts of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. During the last century, they were systematically persecuted and killed by Islamic regimes first, and fundamentalist Sunni Muslim militants later. Over the past 10 years population of Shabaks and Yazidis in Pianis Nineveh has been altered, also by Kurds.

Shabaks and Yazidis were under “arabization process” of Saddam Hussein between 1970 and 2003. In three years, from 1988 to 1991, an estimated 1.160 Shabaks were killed in a series of systematic attacks recognized as genocide by Norway, United Kingdom and Sweden. Even at that time, minorities had to be suppressed in favor of being either exclusively Arab or Kurdish. Main friction between Shabaks and Yazidis are due a too hesitant Pershmerga attitude of safeguarding their lives during last conflicts. Some Kurds even participated in the rapes and killings.

Al Arabya” Journalist Saad Babir has no doubt: as he recently wrote, minorities are in face of two options: «first, to be part of the State of Iraq, meaning they will have to co-exist and live with others encircling them. […] This option remains risky and uncomfortable for all minorities. The second option is to accept the de-facto control of the KRG, and become part of a newly formed Kurdish State. It is clear that this option is also fraught with risks» he said. For these reasons, after the expulsion of Taliban, populations of Sinjar and Nineveh Plain demanded to establish safe zones under international protection.

Bad relations amid the Kurds of KRI and the rest of the Iraqi had are profound. From nearly 1975 both Kurds and Yazidis were deported and forcibly resettled across Iraq. The city of Kirkuk, about 250km north of Baghdad, can be considered the symbol of Ba’athist Arabization campaigns in North Iraq. In the Kurds majority city of Kirkuk, the principal Iraqi petrol producer since the 1930s, Kurds family were evicted forcefully by Saddam’s Iraqi soldiers.

The nationalization of their land, and their successive redistribution to the “new” Arab settlers was continued until the fall of the Baath regime in 2003. Saddam’s most terrifying act against Iraq’s Kurds, is probably when the Regime gassed their countrymen at Halabja, in southern Kurdistan, after the city’s fall in the Iranian hands. The massacre, dated 16 march 1988, caused as many as 5.000 victims and 8.000 injuries. Many births defected, and the growth of rate cancer incidence cases were found related to the chemical attack. The Regime repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilians and killed more than 182,000 people. From Saddam’s time onward, and since Isis invasion, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been a semi-autonomous entity with wide powers, and has proved it is a real threat to no one. However, anti-Arab sentiment has been on the rise when Isis broke Kurdish lines. The war has torn apart one of the most diverse and tolerant communities in Middle East. Freelance journalist Kevin Knodell reported of protests in all over cities of Kurdistan. «Many Kurds want Arabs put in centralized camps, so authorities can keep tabs on them. Others want the Kurdish government to expel the Arabs altogether» he reported. Some Kurdish Facebook pages, like “Naheshtni Arab la Kurdistan”, commonly express anti-Arab sentiments. Although, many Kurds had sweeten their feelings ascribing and pointing their rage as only toward the newly Arabs refugees, thus excluding the Arabs residents. Otherwise, many other Kurds, insist they have a duty to help the Arabs. Nevertheless, Arabs in Kurdistan, who lived peacefully for many years, now are feeling insecure.

The Kurds are an indigenous people of the Mesopotamia, with the estimated population of 35 million divvy up in 14.5 million in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, about 5 to 6 million in Iraq, and less than 2 million in Syria. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state. The historical region of Kurdistan coincide with actual southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran and small portions of southeastern Armenia. Middle East’s present-day frontiers were delineated during the First World War, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Britain and France divided the region into spheres of influence with the secret Sykes-Picot agreement. Iraq, for example, was created in 1921, incorporating a large Kurdish population into an Arab-majority country. From this point of view, Iraqi story is similar to other Kurdish enclaves in Syria and Turkey. In the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, the victorious Europeans promised the Kurds a state, but that promise was undone three years later by the Treaty of Lausanne. In 1922 Secretary State for the Colonies Winston Churchill, for his part, warned that Arab “would ignore Kurdish sentiment and oppress the Kurdish minority”.

Before 2011, when the Syrian civil war started, the Kurds made up between 7% and 10% of Syria’s population. Although have historically enjoyed more national rights than Kurds living in neighboring states, the basic rights of the Kurds have long been suppressed and denied. As occurred since the 1960s, when 300.000 Kurds have been denied the Syrian citizenship, and their land has been confiscated.

On the contrary of Iraq’s political set-up, in Syria many political leaders demanding for greater autonomy have been arrested by the al Assad regime.

The Democratic Unity Party (PYD) and the Kurdistan National Council (KNC), the two main Kurds Syrian political parties, never really broke in the national political life. On the contrary of Turkey, where Kurds question has a central key role in the national and international political life. Especially after 1978, when, following years of denial of basically rights, Kurds leader Abdullah Ocalan established the Kurdistan’s workers Party (PKK).

Recently the actual PKK’s military leader Cemil Bayik said «we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state» otherwise Turkey continues to accuse the PKK of «trying to create a separate state in Turkey». PKK can be considered a Marxist-Leninist roots group aimed for an independent state within Turkey. Six years after the foundation, the group began an armed struggle, and nearly 40.000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The friction and the clashes between PKK and Turkish Government continued since 2012, when a tenuous ceasefire was reached. Two years later, in July 2015, a blast hit a cultural center near the Syrian border town of Suruç. PKK allegedly carried out a revenge attack and killed a Turkish soldier, wounding two more in Adiyaman, in southeastern Turkey. Turkey sees the KRI referendum and the Kurd question in general as a serious problem for its own security. Indeed, Ankara has an ambiguous position toward Syrian Kurds and the fight against Isis. As when Turkish authorities did not allow the Turkish Kurds to send support to the Syrian Kurds of Kobane, they were fighting against terrorists of Isis. Soon after, Turkish army launched an alone «synchronized war on terror» against the PKK, Isis and Syrian Kurds forces tied with YPG and the PYD. Leading a strategy who provoked embarrassment amid Turkish international allies, especially with the United States, who consider YPG and the PYD the most trusted allies in Syrian war.

Another inconsistency of the policy of hatred against Kurds lead by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regards the lucrative business he has. For example, the oil deals contracts already signed with the Kurdish local government, and not recognized by the central Baghdad government. Kirkuk produces close to 400.000 barrels a day, which makes up almost 10 per cent of total Iraqi production. Nevertheless, during Isis occupation jihadists have illegally trafficked petrol and arms with Turkey, making Turkish officials among the major Caliphs financiers, “Wall Street Journal” confirmed. To a such degree, Erdoğan shows at all his unconventional political incoherence, both in the fight against terrorism, and also facing the Kurdistan menace.

Recently, also with Iranian and Iraqi support, Turkish President Erdoğan has threatened to invade Iraq and to act punitive measures as closing the pipeline. However, these measures, did not really stop Kurdish oil exports, and international companies rather of to be fearful of instability and reducing their engagement with the KRI, seem to have opted to increase their investments. Furthermore, Russia clinched several deals with the KRG, guaranteeing future oil sales for millions of dollars economic support if it will decide to separate from Iraq. Even for this, Russian position over the independence of Kurdistan can be considered more favourable respect of Turkish. Even Israel is the first Middle-Esterner country to support for an independent Kurdistan: thanks to wide public opinion approval added to the strongly economic ties, above all in oil imports (up to 77% came from KRG). Otherwise, the United States, keep a formally strong opposition, and is in favour of a successfully negotiation between government of Baghdad and KRI. The United States rated the referendum as a distraction from the ongoing fight against Islamic State.

It is clear that without a strong international support, especially from Nato, United Nations and European Union, and above all without sounded values as a principal prerogative, every tentative of a dreaming free-Kurdistan can be considered only a merely wishful thinking tied to an “oilicracy” independence.
Originally posted on Savanna foreign Post

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