Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Visualizing a Dream

"I hope the northern Iraqi administration gathers itself together and abandons this adventure with a dark ending ."
"The moment we shut the valve [for the pipeline through Turkey] it’s finished for them. [No country other than Israel supports the] invalid, fraudulent] Iraqi Kurdish referendum on independence]."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

"[The landmark vote represents a] historic and strategic mistake by the Kurdish leadership."
"I will not give up on the unity of Iraq, that is my national and constitutional duty."
"[The vote and its outcome] threatens Iraq, is a danger to the region."
"We will take measures to safeguard the nation's unity and protect all Iraqis."
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi
A Syrian Kurd takes a selfie in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli on Tuesday, during a gathering in support of the independence referendum in Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region.
A Syrian Kurd takes a selfie in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli on Tuesday, during a gathering in support of the independence referendum in Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region.  (DELIL SOULEIMAN / GETTY IMAGES)
Turkey remains the conduit for landlocked Kurdistan to export its oil. But Erdogan is bypassing the reality that Moscow has signed a deal with the Kurds for their oil production, and it is highly, hugely unlikely that Ankara is prepared to dispute Moscow over Kurdish oil exports. Empty bluff. What may not be so empty is the military option that Erdogan could always muster. And if it is done alongside Iraq's threat to use force to impede Kurdish sovereignty, a problem could arise. On the other hand, would Sunni Turkey ally itself with Shiite Iraq?

The independence referendum that the Kurdish leadership lauded as a long-awaited exercise in self-determination brought out a strong response in the Kurdish population, as an estimated five million Kurds went to the polls, determined to finally see themselves as a sovereign nation whose geographical rights to their heritage status would be internationally recognized. That intent is viewed as a hostile act by both Iraq and Turkey, fearing that their own Kurdish population will be emboldened, as will those in Syria.

Baghdad visualizes the unsupportable, a redrawing of its borders, with a significant portion of the country's oil wealth slipping away along with that changing border. Iran too has its own fears that the independence of Kurdistan will persuade their own long-suffering Kurdish populations to agitate anew for the same recognition from the international community. Though the international community has not responded positively, with the exception of one sole country whose own trajectory toward sovereign status was hard come by and remains contested.

The 'yes' vote will not immediately serve to bring independence to the region which won autonomy a short few years ago, after suffering horrendous violence from the previous Iraqi government ruled by Saddam Hussein. The referendum, carried resoundingly by the anxious assent of its residents has raised tensions and apprehensions of instability in Iraq and the larger Middle East. Which, in fact, is already in a semi-permanent state of tension and instability. Kurdistan above all, represents the success of regional stability, a bastion of human rights and democracy.

Intimidation is seen to be in order, as hours following the closing of polls across northern Iraq's Kurdish region, Baghdad's Defence Ministry announced a "large-scale" joint military exercise to take place with its neighbour, Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the irascible Islamist that he is, had already threatened military intervention, while Iran held its own military exercises along their border with Iraq. The territory that Kurdish peshmerga captured fighting the Islamic State is considered by them as part of their territory.

Kirkuk included, along with its petroleum resources, a bitter pill for Baghdad to choke on. Masoud Barzani has congratulated his people on asserting their determination to achieve independence, a long-held dream so dear to the hearts of the Kurds and so distant in the past, brought to a head with the referendum that succeeded in shouting out to the world that it is past time that justice be done. "We are ready to pay any price for our independence" calmly stated this world-class leader.

Iraq’s Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani
Iraq’s Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani, appealed for ‘peace and dialogue’ and said: ‘Threats will solve nothing.’ Photograph: Depo Photos/REX/Shutterstock

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