Iraq: Kurds’ desire for independence roils region
What have Iraqi Kurds unleashed? asked Mohamed Mahad Darar in The Jerusalem Post (Israel). The semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq held a referendum last week on whether to break away from Baghdad, and nearly 93 percent of the 3.3 million voters who cast ballots backed independence. Kurds in Iraq cheered in the streets; so did fellow Kurds in neighboring Turkey and Iran. But the central governments of those countries, which fear losing chunks of their territory to a new nation of Kurdistan, responded with anger. Iraq called the referendum an assault on its territorial integrity and immediately began joint military exercises with Turkey and with Iran along Iraqi Kurdistan’s borders. Masoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, wants the nonbinding vote to prompt negotiations, saying Iraq, Iran, and Turkey will have to decide whether to address Kurds’ desire for freedom “responsibly and peacefully, or escalate tension.” If the three choose military confrontation, “the outcome will be catastrophic.”
Blame Israel, said Serdar Turgut in Haberturk (Turkey). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly supports Kurdish statehood because Kurdistan would be an ally of the Jewish state and a “weapon to be used against the increasing power of Iran.” Kurds regard Israel as a model for achieving their own independent ethnic homeland— many waved Israeli flags along with Kurdish ones as they voted. Turkish President Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that such displays prove that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad was behind the referendum. Other shadowy forces are at work, said Ibrahim Karagul in Yeni Safak (Turkey). The U.S., U.K., and other Western powers secretly support the creation of a Greater Kurdistan. “A terrible distribution of trophies is underway in the region, and everybody is trying to get a share in it.” Turkey will be carved up and encircled if it does not act now, and decisively.
Yet after coming under pressure from Russia, Turkey softened its stance, said Ankara-based journalist Jasper Mortimer in Al-Monitor.com. Erdogan initially threatened to “starve” Iraqi Kurds into submission by closing the border and cutting off the pipeline that takes Iraqi oil from the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. But that would have hurt Russia, which has sunk some $4 billion into Kurdish energy projects and “plans to ship large quantities of crude” from Ceyhan to Europe. After President Vladimir Putin made a quick visit to Ankara three days after the referendum, talk of a pipeline cut ended. But that doesn’t mean Russia supports Kurdish independence—Moscow has no desire to complicate its own relations with Baghdad or Tehran.
If violence does flare up, Kirkuk could be the flash point, said Sedat Ergin in Hurriyet (Turkey). “Located on very rich oil reservoirs,” that city is home to large populations of Iraqi Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen—a minority group that Turkey has vowed to protect. With its volatile ethnic mix, any crisis in Kirkuk could “expand to the whole region in a short period of time.”