As Iraq unravels and the closer ISIS forces approach Baghdad, the White House is growing increasingly alarmed and frustrated. President Obama summoned his security advisers on June 19 to deal with the deteriorating situation in Iraq. What he came up with became clear as he was taking questions from journalists gathered in the White House Press Room. “We do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq.” Obama’s response was remarkably candid and direct, “Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by the Iraqis.”
Tag Archives | Kurdistan
This is a unique time in modern history for the Kurdish people. Iraq is a failed state. The sectarian lines have been drawn: Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd. This gives the Kurdish region of Iraq an opportunity to declare independence. Iraqi Kurdistan is the regional source of stability right now, with over one million refugees from Syria and southern Iraq fleeing to safety within its borders, which are being held secure by the Kurdish military, the peshmerga.
Late last week, the Turkish government submitted a bill to the Grand National Assembly advancing the stalled-but-ongoing process toward resolution of the country’s longstanding Kurdish Issue. The bill arrived after a long period of dormancy in the process. Since the negotiations with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan began, Prime Minister Erdoğan has faced mass social protests, corruption allegations, and contentious local elections.
As enemy columns began a long, arduous advance to the capital, city after city and town after town fell. With a phased American pull out that left not a single combat troop in the country, US-equipped and trained local forces began to melt away, a combination of tactical defeats, surrenders, desertions and mutinies. The outlook of reengagement looked even bleaker: more involvement in the longest war to have ever been fought in American history was a politically unpopular and untenable position.
For a few years now, Turkey has been engaged in a delicate balance between the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq. Ankara has not wanted to anger Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki by implying support for an independent – rather than autonomous – Iraqi Kurdistan, and Turkey has never been interested in such an outcome anyway because of the incentives it would create for Turkish Kurds to push harder for their own independent state.
Despite experiencing a period of domestic and diplomatic unease over the past few months, Turkey appears set for a brief period of calm.
Things should be cooling down for Turkey, as the country’s leaders make efforts to reach out both internally to their people – in particular the Kurdish community – and externally to the region, strengthening their political and diplomatic ties. Internally, the Turkish Government has taken a major step towards reconciliation with its Kurdish community through the implementation of an energy partnership with the Kurds in Iraq. The Washington Post reports that the planned oil pipeline promises to provide the Iraqi Kurdistan region with an independent stream of revenue, which has gladdened the Kurdish community in general. It is a rather surprising move, since in the past Turkish leaders have opposed encouraging any measure of autonomy for Iraqi Kurds, mostly for fear that Turkey’s own Kurdish minority might be encouraged to separate.
Externally, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been busy re-implementing his “zero problems with neighbors” policy. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu went on an official visit to Iraq last weekend, conducting high-level meetings in an attempt to repair ties between the two countries after years of uneasy relations. At a press conference in Baghdad, Davutoğlu admitted that there was a period of silence between Turkey and Iraq, but said that now there is a greater effort to overcome that situation.
On August 15, a car bomb ripped through a Beirut suburb, killing 21 people.
The explosion was but the latest in a wave of attacks across Lebanon throughout 2012 and 2013 that were linked to events inside Syria. The ease with which violence in Iraq and Syria has negatively impacted surrounding countries underscores the declining significance of borders throughout the Levant. Sectarian and ethnic identities, rather than citizenship, are proving increasingly influential in shaping the political orientation of communities throughout the region. From Beirut to Baghdad, conservative Sunni Islamists wish to rid the Arab world of Iranian influence, weaken Hezbollah’s position, and restore Sunni rule to Iraq and Syria. Naturally, the Levant’s Shia and Alawite communities are unified in opposition to this agenda.
Amid these deepening regional divisions, a new opening has emerged for one of the Middle East’s longest-suffering minority groups: the Kurds. The shifting regional balance of power has enabled the Kurds to exercise greater control over their destiny. While the future is unpredictable, it is entirely plausible that Syria’s Kurds will maintain autonomy in northeastern Syria when the dust eventually settles. However, the ongoing war between jihadist and Kurdish militias over control of northern Syria—a conflict far less well known than the battle between Assad and the rest of the Syrian rebels—will likely lead to a major humanitarian catastrophe for Syria’s Kurds before any political gains can be consolidated.
Two years ago Turkey was on its way to being a player in Central Asia, a major power broker in the Middle East, and a force in international politics. It had stepped in to avoid a major escalation of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia by blocking U.S. ships from entering the Black Sea, made peace with its regional rivals, and, along with Brazil, made a serious stab at a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis.
Today it is exchanging artillery rounds with Syria. Its relations with Iraq have deteriorated to the point that Baghdad has declared Ankara a “hostile state.” It picked a fight with Russia by forcing down a Syrian passenger plane and accusing Moscow of sending arms to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It angered Iran by agreeing to host a U.S. anti-missile system (a step which won Turkey no friends in Moscow either). Its war with its Kurdish minority has escalated sharply. What happened? The wages of religious solidarity? Ottoman de’je vu?
There is some truth in each of those suggestions, but Turkey’s diplomatic sea change has less to do with the Koran and memories of empire than with illusions and hubris. It is a combination that is hardly rare in the Middle East, and one that now promises to upend years of careful diplomacy, accelerate unrest in the region, and drive Turkey into an alliance with countries whose internal fragility should give the Turks pause. If there is a ghost from the past in all this, it is a growing alliance between Turkey and Egypt.