“Era of Sykes-Picot is Over”: Kurdish Leader

Masoud Barzani calls on world powers to recognize that Iraq and Syria cannot be put back together again.

President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq greets American vice president Joe Biden at the airport in Irbil, December 1, 2011
President Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq greets American vice president Joe Biden at the airport in Irbil, December 1, 2011 (White House/David Lienemann)

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan has called on world powers to recognize that Iraq and Syria will not be reunified and “compulsory coexistence” in the Middle East has failed.

In an interview with Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, Masoud Barzani, who has led the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq for ten years, said “the era of Sykes-Picot is over,” referring to the early-twentieth-century partition of the Ottoman Empire into British and French spheres of influence.

“Whether they say it or not, accept it or not, the reality on the ground is that,” according to Barzani.

Short of independence

Iraq’s Kurds enjoy a high degree of autonomy from Baghdad, but Barzani still stops short of calling for outright independence, saying only it is “now closer than at any other time.”

A push for statehood could jeopardize the international support the Kurds enjoy in their fight against the self-declared Islamic State, a fanatical Islamist group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria. Western countries have armed Kurdish fighters but are also in an alliance with Turkey and bomb Islamic State positions in Iraq at the invitation of the central government. Both oppose Kurdish independence. Turkey fears that if Iraq’s Kurds were to secede, its own Kurdish minority could join them.

Barzani insists that the Kurds are not a threat to their neighbors. “Our experience throughout the last fifteen years proves that we are the element of stability,” he said.

Infighting

Statehood is further complicated by infighting between Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party and the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

The two fought a civil war in the 1990s that led to the establishment of rival administrations in Irbil and Sulaymaniyah. The Barzani regime in Irbil at one time collaborated with Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Yet it emerged as the most powerful faction in the north after Hussein was overthrown in 2003.

Both parties still maintain separate peshmerga units and guard border crossings between the areas they control.

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