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.
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.
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.
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.
Both are economic success stories. Catalonia has only 16 percent of Spain’s population yet accounts for a fifth of its economic output, giving it an economy the size of Denmark’s. Kurdistan has Iraq’s lowest poverty rates and, thanks to its oil reserves, is increasingly self-reliant.
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.
The battle will not be over quickly, though. It has been estimated it will take another three to five months to rout the Islamic State from eastern Mosul.
Once the militants are defeated, internal and sectarian divisions could resurface. A Shia-Sunni divide seems inevitable. Mosul being a Sunni majority town doesn’t help the cause for peaceful settlement. Friction between religious groups can hurt reconstruction efforts, especially with the involvement of Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s sanctioned Shia fighters. We are looking at a “game of thrones” mentality where a balance of factions in this enclave becomes quite a task. Read more “Defeat in Mosul Will Not Eliminate the Islamic State”
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.
Military preparations are underway to retake the rest of the city. Iraqi government forces, supported by the West, have set aside six corridors for displaced people, of which they estimate there will be 250,000 to 300,000.
For now, Islamic State militants continue to use Western Mosul as a base form which to lob missiles at the eastern half of what used to be Iraq’s second largest city. Read more “A Tale of Two Cities in Mosul”
There are some 100,000 troops involved in the conquest (or reconquest, depending on your perspective) of Mosul. On the surface, the battle is meant to restore the Iraqi government to its full writ; a Baghdad-united Shia and Sunni realm, a nation state on the way to functionality. In other words, a normal country.
Careful observation reveals a more wretched future. The Islamic State may be doomed, but that hardly means peace for Iraq. There are too many who want a piece of this particular pie.
As battles go, it was a real shocker: less than 1,500 Islamic State fighters defeating perhaps 30,000 Iraqi police and troops. In the course of six days, from June 4 to June 10, 2014, IS militia conquered Iraq’s second largest city using little more than suicide bombers and pickup trucks. They should have been butchered: Iraq’s troops were well-equipped and theoretically well-trained by the Americans. Should have, yet weren’t; instead of victory, Iraq lost its biggest battle since the American invasion in 2003.
It taught us a lot about Iraq, about how states develop and how quickly they can unravel.