World Won’t Let Catalonia or Kurdistan Come Quietly Onto the Map

Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, October 3
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Barcelona, October 3 (Fotomovimiento)

Catalonia and Kurdistan couldn’t seem farther away. One is nestled in the peace and prosperity of Western Europe, the other swims in the chaos of a dissolving Middle East.

Yet the two independence referendums of these would-be nation states are revealing. Both raise questions about the meaning of their regional orders and have provoked pushback from the status-quo world. Read more

Iraq’s Kurds Deserve the West’s Support for Their Own State

View of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, May 10, 2011
View of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, May 10, 2011 (James Gordon)

Western countries are falling into the familiar habit of discouraging Kurdish self-determination.

American and European officials have urged Iraq’s Kurds to delay their independence referendum, scheduled for next Monday.

The reasons are by now well-known: a Kurdish state would anger the Turks, destabilize Iraq and complicate the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

All of which is true, but there will always be a reason to deny the Kurds self-rule. They have been stateless for generations. If it isn’t Turkish apprehensions today, it will be fears of an Iranian-Turkish condominium tomorrow.

The Kurds, one of the most progressive people in the Middle East, deserve better. Read more

Iraq Takes Similar Approach to Separatist Challenge as Spain

The Al-Rahman mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, October 23, 2003
The Al-Rahman mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, October 23, 2003 (James Gordon)

Like Spain’s, the central government of Iraq is determined to prevent an independence vote for its largest majority. But like the Catalans, the Kurds are determined to vote anyway.

Iraq’s parliament voted on Tuesday to stop a referendum in its Kurdish region and instructed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to preserve national unity.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to do “whatever is necessary” to prevent a referendum on secession in Catalonia. At his government’s request, Spain’s Constitutional Court has suspended the Catalan referendum law.

Catalan regional authorities are pressing ahead. So is the Kurdistan Regional Government, which controls the northern part of Iraq. Read more

After Caliphate’s Fall, A Spending Challenge

Two children walk among the ruins of Mosul, Iraq, June 14
Two children walk among the ruins of Mosul, Iraq, June 14 (ECHO/Peter Biro)

Since Iraqi troops seized back Mosul last month, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has been reduced to the area around Raqqa in Syria. Predominantly Kurdish forces are attempting to take the city, protected by Western airpower. Authorities estimate the number of Islamist fighters has dwindled from the thousands to the hundreds.

As soon as the caliphate falls, governments will face another challenge: the reconstruction.

Repairs to basic infrastructure in Mosul alone could cost up to $1 billion, according to the United Nations.

Iraq’s Ministry of Planning puts the long-term cost of rebuilding Mosul at $10 billion. That includes repairing the damage from the fighting as well as the deliberate destruction caused by the Islamic State.

Given Iraq’s history of corruption and mismanagement of public funds, the final figure could be much higher. And that’s just Mosul. Read more

Catalans, Kurds, Given No Other Choice, Announce Referendums

Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Girona, October 1, 2014
Catalans demonstrate for independence from Spain in Girona, October 1, 2014 (Ariet/Carles Palacio)

Both the Catalans and Iraq’s Kurds have announced independence referendums this week over the objections of their central governments.

The two might seem a world away. Catalans have virtually no security concerns. The Kurds are waging a war on two fronts: one against Turkey to the north and another against the self-proclaimed Islamic State to the south.

Yet they have things in common. Read more

Defeat in Mosul Will Not Eliminate the Islamic State

An American airman radios in from a defensive fighting position while on perimeter watch at Qayyarah Airfield West Iraq, November 17, 2016
An American airman radios in from a defensive fighting position while on perimeter watch at Qayyarah Airfield West Iraq, November 17, 2016 (USAF/Jordan Castelan)

As David Downing reported here on Sunday, Mosul could make a quick economic recovery once it is entirely liberated from the self-declared Islamic State by Iraqi government forces.

Not only is the city, once Iraq’s second largest, a hub for northern Iraqi industry and trade; it’s also situated close to major oil and natural gas reserves. The potential for further economic expansion could be close at hand. Read more

A Tale of Two Cities in Mosul

Children carry food rations distributed by aid groups in a refugee camp in Qayyarah, Iraq, November 8, 2016
Children carry food rations distributed by aid groups in a refugee camp in Qayyarah, Iraq, November 8, 2016 (EU/ECHO/Peter Biro)

Mosul is a tale of two cities.

Eastern Mosul, situated on the left bank of the Tigris, has been fully liberated and a sense of normalcy is returning there. The first schools recently reopened, giving some 16,000 children access to education again. Residents are cleaning and clearing the streets.

Western Mosul, on the right bank of the river, remains under Islamic State control. Read more