Les Kurdes d’Irak, grands gagnants de la guerre contre l’Etat islamique ?
Une analyse à moyen terme
Gauthier Wéry

     
             
 

 FP33-01

numero uk33
langue ukdr fr

nbpage fr72

date082015

 

 

Executive Summary

We have seen the possibility of the emergence of an independent Kurdistan on several occasions in the past; as a result of the Kuwait War in 1991 in Iraq, which led to the political autonomy of the three Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq, and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, which had strengthened this autonomy.

The incredible rise of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq in 2014 has in a certain way made us think about the probability of seeing such a state in northern Iraq. However, voices were very quickly heard arguing that such a state was unlikely and that, in any case, it would be much too early and therefore not sensible. And indeed, in the light of current events in the Middle East, it would seem more reasonable and appropriate for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to focus all its short-term efforts on strengthening its political, economic and energy autonomy within the Iraqi state, as well as its growing role as an indispensable regional actor. In my opinion, it is only in the medium term – perhaps within a dozen years – as a result of a comprehensive development of its autonomy, that Iraqi Kurdistan will have reached the maturity to claim to become a real state.

Facing the impressive territorial growth of IS that now controls much of western Iraq and a portion of the north, including Mosul, the Kurds represent the unique local military force, who are seen as more progressive in the eyes of the West, capable of blocking the advance of the enemy who pulled down the Iraqi army. One of the unexpected repercussions of the rise of IS was the strengthening of the KRG and the deployment of Peshmerga in Kirkuk to ensure its security, which represented a political, economic and military advantage for the Kurds. This city, which has always been disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, especially as regards its hydrocarbon wealth, thus passed under Kurdish control almost instantaneously, while in the same time the KRG put up a defence line that expanded further its area of influence by some 40%.

The massacres of IS also had another effect on Kurdistan: they generated a kind of international empathy for it, particularly through the massacre perpetrated by the jihadists against the Yezidi community in the Sinjar Mountains. Incidentally, these have since late December been partially protected by the KRG Peshmerga who receive logistical support and humanitarian assistance from the international coalition to help oppressed people. This direct support to Erbil, without passing by Baghdad, already partly marks the importance of the autonomous status of Kurdistan, and stresses the will of the international community to act directly with this non-negligible actor in Iraq and in an unstable Middle East.

In the future, Westerners will also always have more interest in supporting the Kurds and embracing the claims of the KRG at the moment of the reconstruction of the Iraqi state in a troubled region. It would not be good for the West to alienate itself from what could be a key ally in an unpredictable Middle East. Ignoring the Kurdish reality may not only be a strategic risk, but also a missed opportunity at a time when it appears as the only credible and interesting one for the United States and Europe. The KRG will also have interest to position itself as a partner of the West to weaken the other states in the area. Its desire and capacity to fight terrorism, strategic location in the heart of the three continents of the Old World, wealth in oil and gas, and its position of water reservoir in the Middle East will indeed be more of a benefit to the Westerners than to unstable neighbouring states. In addition, it is quite possible that the Kurds are planning to expand their future oil market to Europe through the Faysh Khabur pipeline, which is a direct exit door for KRG's oil by the Turkish Mediterranean

coast. It would therefore be conceivable that the hydrocarbon production of the KRG partially reduces the dependence of Europe vis-à-vis its Russian supplier. However, today in a position of strength, and rather than acting alone, the Kurds have shown their willingness to cooperate with Baghdad, particularly in their common struggle against IS, signing in late November 2014 a first oil agreement with the young government of al-Abadi. Soon after, Barzani called the Iraqi army to fight together with the Peshmerga to liberate Mosul. Moreover, given the important involvement of the Kurds in the Iraqi political spectrum, a real statement of an immediate independence would be paradoxical. Indeed, the Kurds pay much attention to the respect of the Iraqi unspoken rule that reserves the position of president of the Republic of Iraq for a Kurd, while the prime minister must be a Shiite Arab and the speaker of the Parliament a Sunni Arab. In addition, in order to unfreeze dialogue with Baghdad, the KRG lobbied representatives of the Shiite community to prevent a new term for al-Maliki. But once again, while Barzani regularly organises meetings with key Shia and Sunni parties in Arbil, the Kurdish members of Parliament seem to fully engage in the Iraqi National Assembly. All these KRG positions demonstrate that the separatist threats emanating from Kurdistan currently have more to do with propaganda than with an imminent secessionist ambition, and that the KRG attaches definitely great importance to its relations with Baghdad.

Furthermore, at the internal level, as long as the Kurds of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gorran fail to present a credible secessionist project with one voice, it is likely that they will never see their independence dream come true. This project should necessarily go through a sharing-based or a switching system as regard the key government positions, similar to what is done at the federal level, in order to never revive rivalries inside Kurdish people. Also, unless they find new international partnerships, the Kurds will have to be careful to not destabilise the relations of economic dependencies they respectively have with their neighbours: the PDK with Turkey and the PUK with the Iranian ally of Iraq. This internal reconciliation must also go through the final union of KDP and PUK's Peshmerga, as well as through a real update and strengthening of the Kurdish military, which is essential if Kurdistan wants to assert itself as a serious actor in the region. To do this, Kurdistan must prove itself capable of assuming the protection of its borders and stop the frequent incursions of the Turkish and Iranian armies into its territory.

To conclude, it is difficult to unanimously say that in their misfortune, the Kurds will emerge victorious from the war against the IS, but it is clear that they will come out of this war with increased power. Indeed, while it is difficult at the moment to consider the close emergence of an independent Kurdistan, it is almost certain that if the enemy is defeated, the autonomy of the KRG will be as far as it is concerned greatly consolidated with arguably the recognition of its territorial gains through Baghdad, provided it finds a new oil compromise as regard the daily provision barrels for the federal government. I believe that this strengthening of the KRG also requires a reform of Iraqi federalism, or even the introduction of a confederation, where Iraq would be divided into three autonomous regions. In parallel to Kurdistan, the Shia Arabs and Sunni Arabs should also be able to administer their respective influence zone to ensure a continued stability in political dialogue in Iraq.

 

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