Baghdad should support the independence of its Kurdish region
The title of this article will ruffle the feathers of fanatical patriots in Iraq and the neighbouring countries but all parties in the Kurdish affair must wake up from the shock of the referendum and accept today’s global standards.
The international community will find it unthinkable to force someone to stay in a failed marriage, especially in the case of the Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been out of the Iraqi central government’s control since 1991.
Most of Kurdistan’s inhabitants have been dreaming of secession from Iraq for a century. That dream will never dissipate. It is perfectly natural for a people who are living on their ancestral land to feel that way.
As soon as we snap out of this patriotic fever and edge closer to global standards, we will realise that people have a natural right to decide their own fate and that denying them that right is unacceptable. However, the harsh realities will eventually push them back into Baghdad’s orbit.
Suppose Baghdad decides to go along with the independence of the Kurdish region. That journey would surely take a long time but Iraq would rid itself of a nagging headache.
A new Kurdish state in Iraq would, in effect, become a problem for Turkey and Iran. They would have no choice but to be ten times tougher than Iraq with the newly formed state.
Baghdad would not lose much in the deal. The Kurdish state would have to choose one neighbouring country to have a passage for its trade with the outside world. Iraq will be the best option by far and the independent Kurdish state would have no choice but to seek a confederation of two independent states with Iraq.
An independent Iraqi Kurdistan would cost Ankara control over expansive Kurdish regions in Turkey. The Kurds in Turkey would naturally pursue their own independence.
The biggest loser, by far, would be Iran. Independence fever would not only reach Iran’s Kurds but also other minorities. Iran might end up shattering into five or more independent states.
If the Kurds in Iran start dreaming about independence, so will the Azerbaijanis, who make up 25% of Iran’s population, and the Arabs and the Balochi, etc. These minorities are living on their ancestral lands and their push for independence would be impossible to stop.
This scenario would undoubtedly be good for all of Iran’s minorities, including the Persians, who make up 30-35% of the population. They would have a historic opportunity to deal with their 14-centuries-old complex with Iraq, Arabs and many neighbouring countries.
All Iraqis know their relationship with the Kurds will never be a homogeneous relationship in one country. It is like a failing marriage in which one partner clings hopelessly to the other.
Sanctions imposed by Iraq, Turkey and Iran against Iraqi Kurdistan will strangle it. All air and land exits have been closed to people and goods, including oil. The situation in the Kurdish region is bound to deteriorate.
Baghdad discovered the constitutional cards in its disposal that have not been used since 2003. In a blink, it has stopped international traffic to and from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports in the Kurdistan region.
The privately owned telecommunication companies Asiacell and Korek will eventually have to obey the Iraqi federal government and move their headquarters to Baghdad. The commercial calculations will have to prevail if the two companies want to continue their activities in Iraq and avoid bankruptcy, even though both companies belong to leading Kurdish political leaders.
With these considerations and the closing of all frontiers, Erbil would end up losing all the tokens of sovereignty it used to enjoy before the referendum.
In short, the federal government can and probably will bring Kurdistan to its knees. Good sense, though, says that it would be better for both parties to resort to international arbitration to sort out the future of disputed territories.
Both parties will most likely have to wait for the results of a new and transparent poll under international supervision. The process would allow both parties to save face at the end of an unavoidable and bitter divorce.
The problem with this scenario, as well as with others, is Iran’s influence in Iraq, which will push some militias in Iraq towards a military confrontation with the Kurds. It needs that card to wrestle with the Trump administration over the nuclear deal, which is boiling again and facing uncertainty.
Signs of a long-term solution for Iraqi Kurdistan are on the horizon. The dreamt-of state needs a passage through the territory of one of its neighbours to gain access to the sea, at least to export oil. A confederation with Iraq would be the best solution in the light of impossible compromise from Iran and Turkey, while Syria is in a chaos.
Local and international officials revealed tentative talks about a confederation between Iraq and an independent Kurdistan based on new terms. That solution seems to be the most that Iraqi Kurds could hope for.