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Syria, Iraq - Why The Kurdish Independence Project Died

Published: October 17, 2017
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Source: Moon of Alabama

The bid of the Kurdish Barzani clan for an independent Kurdistan in north Iraq and beyond has utterly failed. Masoud Barzani, the strongman of the Iraqi Kurdish  region, called for the referendum for independence that led to this backlash. Other Kurdish powerhouses saw it as a last attempt by Barzani to save his failing political position. National Iraqi forces as well as the international powers turned against him. Masoud Barzani and his family are now likely to lose their leading position.

The various unilateral Kurdish assertions since 2003 will be driven back. The dream of Kurdish independence in Iraq and Syria is, for now, dead. This is a positive development for both countries.

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With backing from the Iraqi parliament, public opinion and international support the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Abadi had for months demanded a return of the 2003 borders for the Kurdish region. It condemned the illegal independence bid. The Kurds had pushed far beyond their original borders  and occupied areas with critical oil reserves. The ruling Barzani family mafia sold the oil and pocketed the money that by law was owned to Iraq's federal government. The Barzani militia mafia occupied the federal border stations to neighboring countries and kept all custom income to themselves. Meanwhile teachers and other public workers in the Kurdish region went unpaid.

The Barzani family clan is only one of the powers in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Historically its main competitors are the Talabani clan. Both clans control their own political parties (KDP and PUK) and militia. Both had been fighting against each other during a civil war in the 1990s. Then the Barzanis called in help from Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to defeat their local enemies.

Over the last decade the Talabanis were handicapped by their ailing patriarch Jalal Talabani. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq he eschewed a major role in the Kurdish region in exchange for the ceremonial position of a president of Iraq. When Jalal Talbani died on October 2 his family immediately asserted its position. It negotiated a deal with the central Iraqi government to reign in the Barzanis' quasi dictatorial powers. The Iranian General Qassam Suleiman helped to arrange the agreement.

When the Iraqi government forces, as previously announced, moved to retake Kirkuk from the Kurds the Kurdish militia forces (peshmerga) under PUK/Talibani command immediately retreated. The militia under KDP/Barzani command were left in an indefensible position and had to flee.

Yesterday and today Iraqi national forces retook control of various large oil fields the Kurds had occupied. They are also back in control of border stations with Syria and Turkey. After three years the Yazidi can finally go back to Sinjar. The Mosul Dam is again in government hands. Without oil and borders income the Kurdish region lacks the assets and income to finance any regional independence. While his project collapsed in front of everyone's eyes not a word was heard from Masoud Barzani.

The Iraqi government will not only retake full control of the areas the Kurds under Brazani had illegally usurped. It will also demand new regional elections. It is doubtful that Masoud Barzani, or any of his sons, can win such local elections after all the mismanagement and disasters they caused.

In Syria the Kurdish YPG/SDF forces today took full control of Raqqa. It will take months to clear the last remands ISIS left behind. It will take years to rebuild the city as it was largely destroyed by U.S. air support during the fight against ISIS.

In Deir Ezzor the last Islamic State positions are collapsing under attacks of Syrian government forces. In a few more days and weeks the city and countryside will also be fully liberated.

The war against ISIS is coming to an end. The Kurdish independence project in Iraq has died. The Kurds in Syria will now also be cut back to size. With less than 8% of the population the YPG led Kurds had taken control of 20% of the land and some 40% of the hydrocarbon resources. They will have to give up those gains.

The Kurdish forces in Syria had material and personal support from U.S. forces. Most of the equipment and munition was transported by U.S. planes to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in Iraq, and from there by land through Iraqi-Syrian border stations under Barzani's control. The Iraqi government in Baghdad will now be back in control of those crossings. The flow of U.S. material into the Kurdish-Syrian areas is no longer assured.

The U.S. had long supported Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. It has now taken the side of the Iraqi central government. The (Barzani) Kurds were left hanging. The Kurds in Syria surely recognized that and they will calculate appropriately.

Meanwhile Turkish forces have invaded Idelb governate in north west Syria and nearly surrounded the Kurdish enclave of Efrin. Only Russia is holding Erdogan back from moving any further. Last weekend the military leader of the YPG/SDF in Syria, Sipan Hamo, visitedMoscow. He wants Russian protection for Efrin but for that he will have to pay a price.

The Kurds in Syria will have to reconcile with the Syrian government. Political support from Washington is obviously not reliable. Without U.S. air support the Kurdish military positions are way overstretched. The flow of material support to them is now under latent control of the Baghdad which is allied with the Syrian government side. Only Damascus and its allies in Moscow can prevent the fall of Efrin.

There is no trump card left to play for the Kurds. They can hope that Russia will help them to achieve some bits of federal autonomy in areas of Syria where they are the majority. They will have to give up their other gains.

Zionist forces, which want to split up Syria, will try their best to prevent a U.S. retreat from Syria. Some in the U.S. military will want to continue their alliance with Syrian Kurds. But Turkey as well as Iraq are against further U.S. support for Kurdish forces. Without any assured air, land or sea route the U.S. military can not sustain a long term involvement in Syria. Moreover - there is nothing to gain for it.

I expect that President Trump will declare victory over ISIS in Raqqa and order the U.S. military to leave the country. There will likely be some minor involvement for months to come but the main operation will be wrapped up. What is left of ISIS in Syria's east will be rolled up by the Syrian army and its allies.

Over the last decades, and especially since the (foreign induced) Salafi insurrection weakened the states of Syria and Iraq, the Kurds had made huge territorial and political gains. But they became overly greedy and did not see that these gains were not sustainable. Iraq and Syria reasserted themselves. The "western" allies of the Kurds rediscovered that their strategic interests are best served by intact nation states.

As I wrote elsewhere, the Kurds are an extremely diverse people:

There are four Kurdish languages which are not mutually understandable. There are a dozen religions among Kurds though a majority are (Sufi) Sunni. They have been schooled and socialized in four different states. There are tribal conglomerates or clans like the Barzani and Talibani which have their own political parties and are led by patriarchal family mafias. There are members of the anarcho-marxist cult of Özalan while neighboring Salafi Kurds have joined ISIS to then kill the neighboring Yezidi Kurds. None of these groups has any enlightened or democratic understanding of the world.

The Kurds never got a state and will never get one because they are so hugely diverse and have little national unity. They will rather fight each other than accept some common leadership.

Over centuries the Kurdish people never found the agreement among themselves that is needed to form a viable nation state. The fall of their latest independence bid only confirm this weakness.

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