|It's another fine mess we can lay on the West's doorstep: Mosul residents seek refuge in Kurdistan.|
In the aftermath of WWI, the League of Nations (a forerunner to the United Nations) was established. One of its jobs was to divide up the conquered Ottoman lands. It drew up “mandates” for the Arab world. Each mandate was supposed to be ruled by the British or French “until such time as they are able to stand alone.” The League was the one to draw up the borders we see on modern political maps of the Middle East. The borders were drawn without regard for the wishes of the people living there, or along ethnic, geographic, or religious boundaries – they were truly arbitrary. It is important to note that even today, political borders in the Middle East do not indicate different groups of people. The differences between Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians, etc. were entirely created by the European colonizers as a method of dividing the Arabs against each other.Few deny that Iraq's problems stem from the impossibility of simultaneous self-determination for three ethnicities: Sunni, Shia and Kurds. Especially when energy revenues flow to the central government, it is hard to divvy up the proceeds in a manner deemed fair by all three ethnicities. Today's conflicts are motivated by sectarian violence. The Sunnis who were in power under Saddam Hussein resent the Shias newfound domination and have rebelled. Even it means supporting deranged jihadists, they are at least Sunni deranged Jihadists who seem to be capable of taking the fight to cowardly American-trained Shia "security" forces who certainly don't see the point in defending the non-entity which is Iraq.
To be blunt, Western powers have been complicit in looking the other way as the Kurds have been marginalized, first under Saddam Hussein who famously used poison gas against them to quell an uprising after the first Gulf War and then under Shia-led rule as they've been frozen out of Iraq's commanding heights. This situation may not last for long though as the Kurds have taken over state security in their lands as Shia-trained forces predictably abandoned them to their own devices. With cities falling left and right to the militants, Kurdistan has become a safe haven--although not everyone is allowed in:
An estimated half a million people from Iraq’s second largest city Mosul have fled since militants from the Islamic State and the Levant took control earlier this week. There have been chaotic scenes at border crossings entering nearby Irbil Province in the autonomous region of Kurdistan. “The situation is hopeless in Mosul,” said Waad Ali. “They burned down a police station so I’m doing my best to save my family and protect my children.”Hence the immaculate case for Kurdistan. The only group among the three that has been shown capable of governing are the Kurds. Saddam Hussein and the current Shia leaders show all you need to know about the others' public administration chops. What will likely follow is a protracted conflict in other parts of Iraq as it descends into civil war. The United States and other Western powers have tired by now of sending troops to pacify the area. America will mount airstrikes, but it is difficult to see how these can shore up the Shia leadership in Baghdad without boots on the ground. Rather than condemn the entire Iraq to endless conflict, there is a bastion which can hold out: Kurdistan. It will become the "buffer zone" in a failed state:
Only those with families or invitations from Kurds are being allowed in. For those who aren’t permitted entry to the region the United Nations Refugee Agency in cooperation with the Kurdish government have provided a temporary alternative for the fleeing Iraqis.
The answer, I think, has to do with governance. Kurdish fighters feel that their regional government represents them and are willing to fight for it and their land. In contrast, Shiite Iraqi Army recruits do not know Sunni areas like Mosul and do not want to be there, much less die there. Sunni soldiers, meanwhile, do not feel that the government they serve is theirs. They have seen their communities shut out by Maliki and his disconnected politicians in Baghdad. The Sunni Arabs faced serious persecution in the last couple of years, seeing their peaceful protests violently put down by Maliki and their elected leaders sidelined and hunted down one by one.David Romano continues by envisioning what will happen to Kurdistan. As the rest of the country dissolves into chaos, the Kurds will be in an excellent position to extract concessions from the West:
Allowing constitutionally-envisioned decentralization of power and the formation of other regions could have stopped this and put locals in charge of their own security and finances. This never happened except for in Iraqi Kurdistan, and even there local governance has come under threat by Maliki’s pressure (although Washington could not care less, of course). In the rest of Iraq, promised money and governing authority from Baghdad hardly filters down to the regions, and security forces take all their orders from far-away politicians of the central government.
The real threat in Iraq was never Kurdish secession, but rather renewed authoritarianism in Baghdad and the resistance this would spark in excluded communities. Instead of being so overbearingly “respectful of Iraq’s territorial unity,” the Americans should have been a bit more concerned with Iraq’s constitutional integrity and the decentralization it promised.Iraq as we know it is lost, and you risk incredulity to suggest only Americans can "save" it having set it on its current path. There are good reasons why they didn't try to put Humpty-Dumpty together again that apply here. For geopolitical reasons, especially longstanding Western ally and NATO member Turkey being strongly opposed to Kurdistan statehood since its own Kurdish population may also seek to join the new state, I do not think they will declare themselves to be one de jure. However, with all other vestiges of Iraqi government wiped out or dysfunctional, there will be no one else to talk to who can credibly claim to be "in charge" of their territory. The Turks understand this and now see Kurdistan as a buffer zone keeping them from bordering the militants. The Westerners will deal with the Kurds too since there will be no one else to talk to. De facto they will be the only remaining authority of consequence in (the former) Iraq.
In the meantime, the Kurdistan Regional Government will continue to secure its region and help refugees from Mosul and other places. If the Kurds are wise, they will also refuse to lift a finger for the Americans and Baghdad unless their demands are met. These demands will probably relate to ending the budget embargo on the Kurdish region, financial aid to care for the refugees, payments and weapons for peshmerga forces, recognition of Kurdistan’s hydrocarbons rights and a new government without Mr. Maliki. While the Americans and Baghdad mull over these demands, they might also consider promises regarding disputed territories they both made to the Kurds some ten years ago – before the Kurds use current events to take matters into their own hands.
After being trampled on for so long, Kurdistan's time will soon arrive.