Dyer: The Fall of Kirkuk

Two big cities fell within 24 hours of each other last weekend. The fall of Raqqa in Syria, once the capital of all the territory ruled by ISIS, came after a five-month siege and was no surprise at all. The fall of the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk in Iraq took less than a day and came as a complete surprise.

Possession of Kirkuk was critical for the project of Kurdish independence, because it was the source of most of the oil that would have made an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq economically viable.

The Kurds of Iraq came tantalizingly close to releasing their dream of independence. Since the first Gulf War of 1990, five Kurdish-majority provinces in northern Iraq have been ruled by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which had American support because it opposed Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime. That American support continued even after the U.S. invasion that finally overthrew Saddam in 2003.

The new government the US created in Baghdad had no control over the KRG, and the would-be Kurdish state almost doubled its territory by taking over the other provinces with Kurdish majorities, including oil-rich Kirkuk, after the Iraqi army fled in panic before a surprise ISIS offensive in 2014. Three weeks ago, the Kurdish government even held a referendum on independence in both its old and its new territories.

But then Iran, which is worried about the loyalty of its own large Kurdish minority just across the border from Iraqi Kurdistan, decided it was time to take the Kurds down a peg or three. As the greatest Shia power, Iran effectively controls a lot of the sectarian militias that make up the new Iraqi army, and the Baghdad government was happy to act as its proxy.

The KRG’s president, Masoud Barzani, probably assumed that American support would shield him from Iraqi retaliation when he called the referendum, but it didn’t. When Baghdad sent its troops in on Sunday, the Trump administration merely muttered some weasel words about not liking to see friends fight, and by Wednesday morning the area controlled by the KRG had shrunk by almost half.

Only months ago the Iraqi Kurds were fighting alongside the Iraqi army in the struggle to free Mosul from ISIS control, and the Syrian Kurds have been the main American ally in the fight to destroy ISIS in Syria. But once ISIS was defeated those alliances were bound to end: betraying the Kurds is a old Middle Eastern tradition. The only surprise is how fast it has happened, and how comprehensively the Kurds have lost.

There are about 30 million Kurds, but they live on territory that belongs to four of the most powerful states in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. They have been seeking an independent Kurdish state for a century now, but all the countries that stand to lose large amounts of territory if it ever actually happened are profoundly opposed to that outcome.

Moreover, the Kurds themselves have never really been united, even within the borders of the KRG. In practice, control of the territory has always been split between factions centred on the Barzani or the Talabani clans. Each faction has its own militia, and they even fought a civil war that killed thousands in the mid 1990s.

There was no joint defence of Kirkuk when the Iraqi army finally moved. Indeed, there was hardly any defence at all; first the Talabani forced pulled out, and then Barzani’s troops had no option but to follow. The Kurdish dream of independence is at an end, and the Kurds will be lucky if they manage to keep even the autonomy they have enjoyed in Iraq since 1991.

Indeed, they will be lucky if can avoid another civil war over who is to blame for the catastrophe (from the Kurdish point of view) of the past few days.

On Wednesday, President Barzani gave a speech that said, presumably about the Talabani faction: “They want to drag us into a civil war, but we will in no way be doing this.”

But a lot of Kurds blame him and his referendum for provoking the disaster, and they will be looking for somebody to punish.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published n 45 countries.

Just Posted

Separate lightning strikes hit two vehicles near Ponoka

No one injured in lightning strikes on Thursday morning

Government changes working conditions to meet wildfire observers’ needs

Wildfire observers opposed mandatory days off with no pay

More RCMP resources recommended for Red Deer’s downtown and other priorities

City council to consider where to designate three additional officers

Red Deer rents among the lowest in Canada

One-bedroom unit averages $1,056 per month

Rain doesn’t scare visitors away from Westerner Days

Attendance steady at Red Deer fair and exhibition

Fashion Fridays: 5 casual summer dress styles

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

American father, two sons among passengers on plane in fatal Labrador crash

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — An American father and his two sons vacationing… Continue reading

Apollo 11 astronauts reunite on 50th anniversary of moonshot

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins… Continue reading

Fast-growing web of doorbell cams raises privacy fears

The woodsy community of Wolcott, Connecticut, doesn’t see a lot of crime.… Continue reading

Statistics Canada reports retail sales fell 0.1 per cent in May to $51.5B

OTTAWA — Canadian retail sales fell for the first time in four… Continue reading

Bank of Canada lowers qualifying rate used in mortgage stress tests

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada has lowered the rate used by… Continue reading

Stop CBSA policy requiring bulletproof vests in immigrant detention: advocates

OTTAWA — A group of doctors, lawyers, legal scholars and human-rights organizations… Continue reading

Ontario attorney general invokes PM in spat over refugee legal aid

OTTAWA — Ontario’s attorney general is taking his fight for more federal… Continue reading

Judge finds Dennis Oland not guilty of murder in multi-millionaire father’s death

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Dennis Oland was cheered and applauded by supporters… Continue reading

Most Read