Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Chessboard Shifts to Kurdistan

Now that Mosul has been declared liberated, marking the end of the caliphate in Iraq, the refrain in the prestige press seems to be "Not so fast."

This stands to reason. ISIS was always in line with U.S. policy goals in Iraq and Syria (the acronym remember stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Even prior to the amazing spontaneous emergence of the caliphate in Mosul pressure was being put on then Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki to grant some form of autonomy to the Sunni heartland. The United States wanted to see a Sunnistan with its own military.

Former Obama foreign policy elite Tony Blinken was back at it the other day in "The Islamic State Is Not Dead Yet":
Even more challenging is what comes next. Twenty-five million Sunni Muslims live between Baghdad and Damascus. They have been alienated from their governments.
Unless they can be convinced that their state will protect and not persecute them, an Islamic State 2.0 will find plenty of new recruits and supporters.
Iraq offers the best prospects for success. But left to their own devices, its leaders are more likely to perpetuate the conditions that gave rise to violent extremism. And Iraq’s neighbors will line up behind whichever sect they support, reinforcing a zero-sum mentality in Iraq itself.
That’s where American diplomacy comes in.
The United States can’t dictate outcomes to a sovereign Iraq. But it can support, incentivize and mobilize those willing to move Iraq in the right direction.
This starts with backing what Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, calls functioning federalism — giving Iraqis at the provincial level the responsibility and resources to provide for their own security, services and schools and to govern their day-to-day lives.
That’s the best way to convince Sunnis that their future is within Iraq and not with a new Islamic State. Iraq’s Sunnis used to oppose federalism in favor of a strong central government; increasingly, they embrace it.
Iraq’s constitution provides for decentralization, but it has yet to be put into effect. Some within the Shia community, goaded on by Iran, will insist on retaining the spoils of majoritarian rule, preserving a dominant Baghdad to lord it over the Sunnis.
Bringing functioning federalism to life begins with effectively implementing a law that governs Iraq’s militia, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Shiite P.M.F. units must be placed under state control, kept out of politics and away from Sunni areas.
Sunni P.M.F. units mobilized into the fight against the Islamic State need to stay on the state payroll and assume responsibility for securing their own territory. Baghdad also must make sure that investment and major infrastructure projects don’t bypass Sunni regions.
So the song from before the caliphate remains the same after the caliphate. Doesn't that smell fishy to you?

Tim Arango adds some much needed detail in "Iraq Celebrates Victory Over ISIS in Mosul, but Risks Remain." He quotes Maliki who predicts more turbulence ahead:
“Syria and Iraq are closely connected,” Mr. Maliki said in an interview this year. “If the situation in Syria is unstable, Iraq will be unstable.”
When asked about the future of Iraq after the Islamic State, Mr. Maliki said: “The state cannot control the situation. The coming phase will be bad.”
The coming bad phase, absent more jihadist-U.S. false flags, will be initiated by the Kurdish independence referendum scheduled for September. When the vote comes in as an overwhelming Yes, Iraq will be forced to negotiate. Part of the negotiations will include Sunnistan because if the Kurds get their own state, even if only as a federal administrative unit of the nation of Iraq, the Sunnis will want a similar deal.

The wild card here is Turkey. How will Turkey respond?


  1. As I recall, a couple years after the initial invasion of Iraq there was a Galbraith (sic) who laid out the idea of dividing up Iraq.

  2. Yes, Peter Galbraith, son of John Kenneth and brother of James K. It turns out that his idea of slicing Iraq in three was not based entirely on his love for the Kurdish people. He advised the Kurds during negotiations over Iraq's new constitution at the same time taking a stake in a Norwegian oil company that was seeking drilling rights in Kurdistan.

    The U.S. was not always for a tripartite Iraq. It wasn't until they realized that there was no Shah of Iraq waiting in the wings to mollify the Shiite masses while licking U.S. boots that they started to embrace partition, a.k.a., federalism.

    I doubt Abadi is going to give them what they want. The Shiite militias appear to be enormously popular. When I was still up on reading Patrick Cockburn's dispatches, one of the pearls of wisdom that I gleaned from him was that the masses in Baghdad credit the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces with saving their lives and the life of the nation. Abadi is not going to bargain that away with Brett McGurk.

    The other thing to factor in is the oil. Arango mentioned in his story that Kurds are squatting on something like 80% of the oil-rich territory that is in dispute with the national government, including Kirkuk. The Kurds are not going to want to give it up and Abadi can't be seen to give it away.

    The caliphate might be gone but the problem of Kurdistan remains.

  3. And both Turkey and Iran are interested in putting restive Kurds back to bed, which suggests that the US will be fighting a regional war. Things aren't going so well with the House of Saud's attempts to make Qatar its vassal.

    Maybe it's the Deep State's way to promote fracked US gas.

  4. The NYT story today was very pessimistic about Tillerson's shuttle diplomacy. The Saudis show no signs of accepting Qatar's peace offering. As for Kurdistan (Rojava at least), a couple U.S. guys died recently fighting for the YPG in Syria, one of whom was from Santa Cruz.

    I wonder how that is going to play out. It seems like Barzani, who addressed the European Parliament yesterday, couldn't care less about Syrian Kurds. But the YPG has been much more important to the Pentagon, and appears to have deeper roots in the European and U.S. left, than the Kurds centered in Erbil. When it comes time to renege on Rojava, as you predicted the other day, Bob, it's going to be ugly.