Timing Ideal for Iraq’s Kurds to Declare Independence

After almost a century of broken promises and political strife, the Kurdish population of the Middle East seems to be coming into its own. Kurds in Iraq and Syria have been essentially the only force to persistently enjoy success in combating ISIS and have provided enclaves of relative stability as their respective states have crumbled.

The Iraqi Kurds have been especially successful. Since the formation of the Kurdish Autonomous Region following the American invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds have essentially created their own state based around their capital at Irbil, complete with a largely autonomous income from oil sales and trade with Turkey. Due to a variety of domestic, regional and international factors, the time is now ripe for Iraqi Kurdistan to formally declare independence and sever the ties which bind it to Baghdad. Read more “Timing Ideal for Iraq’s Kurds to Declare Independence”

Turkey Blames Syrian Kurds, Russia for Ankara Bombing

Turkey blamed a Kurdish rebel group on Thursday for a bomb attack in its capital that killed 28 people and warned its rival Russia against supporting the Kurds.

“If these terror attacks continue, they will be as responsible as the YPG,” the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, said about the Russians.

The YGP, or People’s Protection Units, are a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that the Turks consider a terrorist group.

But they are backed by Russia and the West — if for different reasons. Read more “Turkey Blames Syrian Kurds, Russia for Ankara Bombing”

Russia Makes Syrian Puzzle Even More Complicated

By throwing its support behind Syria’s Kurds, Russia has succeeded at driving a wedge between Turkey and its NATO allies.

Kurdish fighters have recently taken advantage of Russian airstrikes in the north of Syria that have targeted Arab and Turkmen opponents of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Kurds now control almost the entire frontier with Turkey.

Turkey has responded by shelling Kurdish positions on the other side of the border, alarming its Western allies who see the Kurds as the most effective fighting force against the self-declared Islamic State. Read more “Russia Makes Syrian Puzzle Even More Complicated”

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

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

Why Turkey Doesn’t Do More to Defeat Islamic State

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Barack Obama
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Barack Obama of the United States meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 7, 2009 (White House/Samantha Appleton)

David Graeber argues in The Guardian newspaper that all that’s standing in the way of defeating the Islamic State is Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who is distracting Kurdish militants from fighting the fanatical Islamist organization.

If only it were that simple.

First, Graeber sidesteps the fact that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) itself resumed conflict with the Turkish state. It is still considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its NATO allies, barring the West from supporting it no matter how effective it may be against the self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

There is little doubt that Erdoğan has seized on the PKK’s resurgence for political reasons. It helped him persuade Turks in an election earlier this month to give his Justice and Development Party another majority.

But it would be a stretch to claim, as Graeber does, that the Kurds have “completely shifted strategy, renouncing separatism and adopting a strict policy of never harming civilians.” Neither Erdoğan nor the PKK is free from blame here.

Second, it may be overly optimistic to think that the Kurds can defeat the Islamic State on their own. Their priority is defending their territory. They should hesitate before moving into the Sunni-inhabited areas of Iraq and Syria once the Islamists have been driven out of Kurdistan. Read more “Why Turkey Doesn’t Do More to Defeat Islamic State”

While Fighting Islamists, Iraq’s Kurds Succumb to Rivalries

Even as Kurdish troops struggle to keep fanatics of the self-declared Islamic State at bay, their leaders in northern Iraq are succumbing to decades-old rivalries that threaten to undo the spectacular progress the region has made.

The Kurds are often praised in the West for the bravery and tenacity they have demonstrated in fighting off Islamic State militants who still control much of the east of Iraq as well as territory across the border in Syria.

The previously relatively stable politics of Irbil, the regional capital, also contrasted favorably with the ongoing sectarian infighting in Baghdad, luring international energy companies and investors to the region.

But the rivalries that led to a civil war two decades ago remained unresolved and have recently resurfaced. Read more “While Fighting Islamists, Iraq’s Kurds Succumb to Rivalries”

Spain, Turkey Give Minorities No Alternative to Secession

As Catalans vote this weekend in an election that their leaders will consider a de facto referendum on secession from Spain, the government in Madrid seems dumbfounded. It simply maintains that Catalonia has no constitutional right to break away — as if the separatists care about the laws of a country they don’t want to be part of anymore.

Their inability to empathize with Catalonia’s desire for independence is not unique.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is similarly stunned by what it sees as a sudden surge in Kurdish nationalism. In elections this summer, a pro-Kurdish party for the first time cleared the 10 percent election threshold to win seats in parliament. Erdoğan’s ruling Islamists quickly called another election to try and reverse this outcome.

The Turkish government simultaneously launched an anti-terror campaign in response to an ill-timed resumption of violence by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a far-left Kurdish militant group.

Erdoğan’s attempt to paint all Kurdish nationalists as terrorists isn’t working, however. If anything, he may end up radicalizing the entire movement.

Just as Madrid’s refusal to grant Catalonia more autonomy has given nationalists there little choice but to seek all-out independence, Turkey’s attempts to shut the Kurds out of the political process and suppress their culture and identity are giving the country’s largest minority little alternative to armed struggle and separatism. At least as long as Erdoğan stays in power, that seems to be the only way they can preserve their heritage. Read more “Spain, Turkey Give Minorities No Alternative to Secession”

Has the West Abandoned the Kurds? It’s Complicated

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Barack Obama
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Barack Obama of the United States meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, December 7, 2009 (White House/Samantha Appleton)

When Turkey started attacking Islamic State, or ISIS, militants in northern Syria last week, it also targeted areas controlled by Kurdish fighters who have been among the effective in keeping the fanatical Islamists at bay. This has put the West in the awkward position of supporting two enemies of the Islamic State who are also at war with each other.

Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper finds this dilemma unbearable and accuses the West of stabbing the Kurds in the back.

For the past year, Western leaders have feted the Kurds of northern Iraq, praising them as one of the few forces gutsy enough to face down the death cult of ISIS.

Now, those leaders turn a blind eye, or even worse give an active nod, to attacks on northern Iraqi Kurds by the Turkish air force.

Heroes one minute; fair game for massacre the next. In the long list of Western betrayals of former allies overseas, this one feels especially grotesque.

The accusation is not entirely without merit. Turkey’s NATO allies do say they support its military action against both Islamist and Kurdish insurgents in Syria — if not, as The Telegraph claims, in Iraq. Read more “Has the West Abandoned the Kurds? It’s Complicated”

Turkey Seeks to Block Allies from Supporting Kurds

Turkey denied American and other NATO aircraft use of its Incirlik base for missions that support Kurdish fighters in Syria, the country’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday — raising suspicion that the real motive for its involvement in the Syrian conflict is to suppress Kurdish nationalism.

Late last week, Turkey allowed the United States to fly missions out of Incirlik Air Base against militants of the radical Islamic State militant group in Syria. Its own jets started bombing both Islamic State and Kurdish insurgent targets around the same time.

Turkey previously shied away from fighting the Islamists on its border, fearing that military action against the caliphate would benefit its main rival for control of the north of Syria: Kurdish fighters who are affiliated with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Read more “Turkey Seeks to Block Allies from Supporting Kurds”

Turkey Targets Islamic State, Keeps Eye on Kurds

Turkish jets carried out their first attacks on Islamic State targets in neighboring Syria overnight, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s office announced early on Friday. Two command centers and a rallying point were said to be hit.

The attacks came hours after Turkey allowed the United States to use its Incirlik Air Base to stage attacks against the radical Islamist group that has proclaimed a caliphate in the Levant.

Turkey previously shied away from fighting the Islamic State — and denied its NATO ally use of the Incirlik base — because the group also does battle with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad that Turkey opposes. Read more “Turkey Targets Islamic State, Keeps Eye on Kurds”