IRAQI KURDS, WHO VOTE ON INDEPENDENCE THIS MONTH, STAND “ON THE BRINK OF STATEHOOD” Posted on September 12, 2017 Printer Friendly The Kurds Are About to Blow up Iraq: Michael J. Totten, World Affairs Journal, Aug. 17, 2017— …On September 25, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil will hold a binding referendum on whether or not to secede from Iraq. The Strategic Case for Kurdistan: Caroline B. Glick, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 31, 2017—…Whereas Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated his support for Kurdish independence earlier this month in a meeting with a delegation of visiting Republican congressmen Sunni Muslim Kurds, Christian Assyrians, and Yazidis at odds in Quest to Create Sovereign Homelands: Sargis Sangari, Western Free Press, June 30, 2017— The current Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) leadership has decided to hold a referendum on 25 SEP 17 to separate from Iraq in order to create a Sunni Muslim Kurdish state. The Kurds Are Not Children: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Foreign Policy, Sept. 6, 2017— The timidity of the international community in the face of the Sept. 25 referendum on an independent Kurdistan is a trifecta of shame, absurdity, and historic miscalculation. On Topic Links Iraqi Parliament Rejects Iraqi Kurdish Referendum: Jerusalem Post, Sept. 12, 2017 For Iraq’s Long-Suffering Kurds, Independence Beckons: Tim Arango, New York Times, Sept. 9, 2017 Iraqi Kurds’ Referendum Fever Spills Over to Turkish Cousins: Mahmut Bozarslan, Al-Monitor, Sept., 2017 Is Barzani the Savior of the Kurdish “Nation,” or is He in Fact its Enemy?: Sargis Sangari, Western Free Press, Aug. 7, 2017 THE KURDS ARE ABOUT TO BLOW UP IRAQ Michael J. Totten World Affairs Journal, Aug. 17, 2017 …On September 25, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil will hold a binding referendum on whether or not to secede from Iraq. It will almost certainly pass. More than a decade ago, the Kurds held a non-binding referendum that passed with 99.8 percent of the vote. No one knows what's going to happen. Iraq is the kind of place where just about anything can happen and eventually does. Kurdish secession could go as smoothly as a Scottish secession from the United Kingdom (were that to actually happen) or a Quebecois secession from Canada, were that to actually happen. It could unfold like Kosovo's secession from Serbia, where some countries recognize it and others don't while the Serbs are left to stew in their own juices more or less peaceably. This is a serious business, though, because Iraq is not Britain, and it is not Canada. And there's a potential flashpoint that travelers to the region would be well advised to stay away from for a while. Shortly after ISIS invaded Iraq from Syria in 2014, the Kurdistan Regional Government effectively annexed the oil-rich governorate of Kirkuk. Ethnic Kurds made up a plurality of the population, with sizeable Arab and Turkmen minorities, before Saddam Hussein's Arabization program in the 1990s temporarily created an artificial Arab majority. Since then, Kurds have been returning to the city en masse while many Arabs, most of whom had no history in the region before Saddam put them there, have left. No one really knows what the demographics look like now. It's a tinderbox regardless of the actual headcount. Some of the Arabs who still live there could mount a rebellion at some point, either immediately or down the road. If they do, they might engage in the regional sport of finagling financial and even military backing from neighboring countries. Then again, Arabs have been trickling north into the Kurdistan region for years because it's peaceful and quiet and civilized. It's the one part of Iraq that, despite the local government's corruption and inability to live up to the democratic norms it claims to espouse, works remarkably well. I've been to Iraqi Kurdistan a number of times. It's safer than Kansas. My only real complaint is that it gets a bit boring after a while. If you're coming from Baghdad or Mosul, it's practically Switzerland. Kirkuk Governorate, though, is—or at least recently was—another story. The three "core" Kurdish governorates—Dohuk, Erbil, and Suleimaniyah—have been free of armed conflict since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but Kirkuk was down in the war zone. I went there ten years ago from Suleimaniyah and was only willing to do so under the armed protection of Kurdish police officers. Had I wandered around solo as I did farther north, I would have risked being shot, kidnapped or car-bombed. I still could have been shot or car-bombed alongside the police, but at least kidnapping was (mostly) off the table. The very fact that Kirkuk was a war zone at a time when the Kurdish governorates to the north were not suggests that the Kurds may be swallowing more than they can digest. Kirkuk has oil, though, while the governorates to the north mostly don't, so of course the Kurds want it. Baghdad, of course, wants to keep it for the same reason. Will Iraq's central government go to war over it? Probably not. Saddam Hussein lost his own war against the Kurds in the north, and he had far more formidable forces at his disposal than Baghdad does now. Still, it's more likely than a war between London and Edinburgh, or between Ottawa and Montreal. The biggest threat to an independent Iraqi Kurdistan comes not from Baghdad but from Turkey. The Turks have been fighting a low-grade counter-insurgency against the armed Kurdish separatists of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) since the 1970s that has killed tens of thousands of people, and they're deathly afraid that a free and independent Kurdish state anywhere in the world will both embolden and assist their internal enemies. While Turkey is no longer likely to invade Iraqi Kurdistan on general principle if it declares independence—a going concern shortly after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein—the Turkish government is making it clear that it is supremely unhappy with the KRG including Kirkuk in its referendum. "What really concerned us," a spokesperson for Turkey's president said in June of this year, "was that Kurdish leaders want to include Kirkuk in this process while according to the Iraqi constitution Kirkuk is an Iraqi city and is not within Kurdish boundaries … If any attempts will be made to forcefully include Kirkuk in the referendum question, problems will be made for Kirkuk and its surrounding areas."… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents THE STRATEGIC CASE FOR KURDISTAN Caroline B. Glick Jerusalem Post, Aug. 31, 2017 …Whereas Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated his support for Kurdish independence earlier this month in a meeting with a delegation of visiting Republican congressmen, the Trump administration has urged Kurdish President Masoud Barzani and his colleagues to postpone the referendum indefinitely. US Defense Secretary James Mattis, who visited with Barzani in the Kurdish capital of Erbil two weeks ago, said that the referendum would harm the campaign against Islamic State. In his words, “Our point right now is to stay focused like a laser beam on the defeat of ISIS and to let nothing distract us.” Another line of argument against the Kurdish referendum was advanced several weeks ago by The New York Times editorial board. The Times argued the Kurds aren’t ready for independence. Their government suffers from corruption, their economy is weak, their democratic institutions are weak and their human rights record is far from perfect. While the Times’ claims have truth to them, the relevant question is compared to what? Compared to their neighbors, not to mention to the Times’ favored group the Palestinians, the Kurds, who have been self-governing since 1991, are paragons of good governance. Not only have they given refuge to tens of thousands of Iraqis fleeing ISIS. Iraqi Kurdistan has been an island of relative peace in a war-torn country since the US-led invasion in 2003. Its Peshmerga forces have not only secured Kurdistan. They have been the most competent force fighting ISIS since its territorial conquests in 2014. The same is the case of the Kurdish YPG militia in Syrian Kurdistan. As for Mattis’s argument that the referendum, and any subsequent moves to secede from Iraq, would harm the campaign against ISIS, the first question is whether he is right. If Mattis is concerned that the referendum will diminish Iranian and Turkish support for the campaign, then his concern is difficult to defend. Turkey has never been a significant player in the anti-ISIS campaign. Indeed, until recently, Turkey served as ISIS’s logistical base. As for Iran, this week Iranian-controlled Hezbollah and Lebanese military forces struck a deal to permit ISIS fighters they defeated along the Lebanese-Syrian border to safely transit Syria to ISIS-held areas along the Syrian border with Iraq. In other words, far from cooperating with the US and its allies against ISIS, Iran and its underlings are fighting a separate war to take ISIS out of their areas of influence while enabling ISIS to fight the US and its allies in other areas. This then brings us to the real question that the US should be asking itself in relation to the Kurdish referendum. That question is whether an independent Kurdistan would advance or harm US strategic interests in the region. Since the US and Russia concluded their cease-fire deal for Syria on July 7, Netanyahu has used every opportunity to warn that the cease-fire is a disaster. In the interest of keeping Mattis’s “laser focus” on fighting ISIS, the US surrendered its far greater strategic interest of preventing Iran and its proxies from taking over the areas that ISIS controlled – such as the Syrian-Lebanese border and the tri-border area between Iraq, Syria and Jordan. As Netanyahu warns at every opportunity, Iran and its proxies are moving into all the areas being liberated from ISIS. And Iran isn’t the only concern from either an Israeli or an American perspective. Turkey is also a looming threat, which will only grow if it isn’t contained. Turkey’s rapidly accelerating anti-American trajectory is now unmistakable. Last week during Mattis’s visit to Ankara, Turkish- supported militias in northern Syria opened fire on US forces. Not only did Turkey fail to apologize, Turkey condemned the US for retaliating against the attackers. Moreover, last week, Turkish authorities announced they are charging US pastor Andrew Brunson with espionage, membership in a terrorist organization and attempting to destroy Turkey’s constitutional order and overthrow its parliament. Brunson was arrested last October. Whereas until last year’s failed military coup against the regime of President Recep Erdogan, Turkey demonstrated a firm interest in remaining a member of NATO and a strategic ally of the US, since the failed coup, Turkey has signaled that at best, it is considering its options. US generals say that since the failed coup, they have almost no one to talk to in the Turkish military. Their interlocutors are either under arrest or too afraid to speak to them. The regime and its supporters express both neo-Ottoman and neo-colonial aspirations, both of which place Turkey on a collision course with the US. For instance, Melih Ecertas, the head of Erdogan AKP Party’s youth wing proclaimed that Erdogan is not merely the president of Turkey. He is “President of all the world’s Muslims.”… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents SUNNI MUSLIM KURDS, CHRISTIAN ASSYRIANS, AND YAZIDIS AT ODDS IN QUEST TO CREATE SOVEREIGN HOMELANDS Sargis Sangari Western Free Press, June 30, 2017 The current Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) leadership has decided to hold a referendum…to separate from Iraq in order to create a Sunni Muslim Kurdish state. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the referendum will pass, with the majority of the KRG’s Sunni Muslim Kurdish population expected to vote overwhelmingly in its favor. Masoud Barzani (President of Iraqi Kurdistan), has left nothing to chance in this regard, providing “his” Kurds and allies with financial support and direct monetary payouts on the understanding that they will vote for statehood. In August 2015, Iraqi Kurdistan’s Shura Council (or upper house of parliament) voted to extend President Barzani’s term as KRG president by two years. But that’s not enough for Barzani. He wants to stay in power indefinitely. To that end, he has pushed for secession of the KRG from Iraq and the creation of a Kurdish state — which he will head, as it’s de facto leader-for-life. Even though it stands on the brink of statehood, the KRG has not yet proposed or even written a constitution for their new country. But Barzani and his underlings have left no doubt as to who will control it. On 29 JUN 17 at a conference in Brussels, Belgium, KRG leaders articulated measures for the soon-to-created Kurdistan that would establish the Sunni Muslim Kurds as the new state’s dominant political group. All non-Kurds — including, notably, the region’s Assyrian Christians – would be effectively (and deliberately) marginalized by this arrangement. Thus the KRG leadership sought to compel Christian Assyrian support for absorbing the Assyria Nineveh Plain (ANP) into Kurdistan. Amazingly, they tried to cast this move in a favorable light, and thereby win world opinion to their side, by portraying Sunni Muslim Kurds as saviors and protectors of the Assyrian Christians. But Assyrian political groups and Assyrian church representatives were not fooled, and promptly withdrew from the European Union Conference. As they demonstrated at the conference, the Sunni Muslim Kurds want the ANP and Sinjar for Kurdistan. They covet the region’s vast untapped oil reserves, and will do everything in their power to take them for their own. If they get their way, the consequences will be dire. For starters, the Government of Iraq (GOI) will no longer recognize the legitimacy of Kurdish political parties, Assyrian political parties, and the Yazidi alliance in the Iraqi north. As a result, the Assyrians and Yazidis will no longer receive financial support and security protections from the GOI, which is currently provided to them under current constitutional mandates. Also, Article 125 of the Iraqi constitution will no longer apply in support of the Assyrians as an indigenous people of Iraq. Even worse, Christian Assyrians who live in the ANP and Yazidis living in Sinjar and throughout the Iraqi north all will be expected to acquiesce in the formation of the Kurdish state. They will have to renounce their aspirations for an Assyrian state, and if they refuse to do so they will be branded as rebels and foreigners by their newest Sunni Muslim masters. These Christians and Yazidis will effectively become second-class citizens in the Sunni Muslim Kurdish state, and they will be stripped of their rights as a distinct ethnicity to create a state in their own historical homeland. Over time, the Christian Assyrians will be “encouraged” to leave the Kurdish state. Those that stay will be forced to accept Kurdish occupation of their lands along with the heavy handedness of Kurdish rule. They will be persecuted for their Christian faith, and the use of the Assyrian language will be marginalized…Here we would remind readers that first Christian genocide of the 20th century, 1915-1923, saw the massacre of tens of thousands of Anatolian Assyrians, Pontic Greeks, and Armenians. The mass murders were carried out in large measure by Kurdish tribesmen and Kurdish assassins, acting at the behest of their Ottoman Turk overlords – and Sunni co-religionists. Kurdish maltreatment of Christian Assyrians and Yazidis continues in the present day. It has not reached the levels of violence that obtained during and after the First World War, but we fear that it could, and soon rather than later. We fear that a storm is coming: the first holocaust of the twenty-first century, with Christian Assyrians and Yazdis as its primary victims. The Assyrians of Iraq must take bold action to prevent their annihilation. They must act to save themselves, because no one else will. Certainly they cannot expect help from the global powers, which are focused on their own agendas and perceived self-interests to act meaningfully on the Assyrians’ behalf. A preemptive (albeit peaceful) “strike” by the Assyrians aimed at blocking the KRG’s agenda for the ANP is needed. On the same day as the Current KRG leaders hold a referendum for statehood the Assyrian and Yazidi political parties should declare their intent to create their own nation-state, in the hearth of their historical homeland, to encompass the Assyria Nineveh Plain, Dahok, Sinjar, and portions of Erbil (i.e., Ankawa, which has an overwhelming Assyrian Christian populace). Further, the Assyrians are willing to announce their desires to work with the GOI to achieve the objective of an Assyrian state as part of a federalized Iraqi system. If the GOI and the international community are willing to back the creation of a state for Sunni Muslim Kurds, they should be equally willing to back the creation of an Assyrian state for the Christian and Yazidi peoples of northern Iraq in their own historical homeland. If the Assyrians and or the Yazidis follow through on their declaration, the Sunni Muslim Kurds must leave Dahok (Assyria Nuhadra) and give up their control over Ankawa, which they presently occupy. The GOI acting in collaboration should mandate their departure from Dahok/Nuhadra with the international community… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents THE KURDS ARE NOT CHILDREN Bernard-Henri Lévy Foreign Policy, Sept. 6, 2017 The timidity of the international community in the face of the Sept. 25 referendum on an independent Kurdistan is a trifecta of shame, absurdity, and historic miscalculation. We are talking about a people who have been deported, Arabized by force, gassed, and pushed into the mountains where, for a century, they have mounted an exemplary resistance to the tyranny their Baghdad masters successively imposed on them in defiance of geography and of the Kurds’ thousand years of history. Theirs is a region that finally gained autonomy with the fall of Saddam Hussein — a region that, when the tsunami of the Islamic State crashed over Mesopotamia in 2014 and the Iraqi Army took flight, was the first to organize a counteroffensive. Since then, over a front 600 miles long, the Iraqi Kurds held off the barbarians and thus saved Kurdistan, Iraq, and our shared civilization. And it is the Kurds again who, in the run-up to the battle of Mosul, went on the offensive on the Plains of Nineveh, opened the gates to the city, and, through their courage, enabled the coalition to strike at the heart of the Islamic State. But now that the time has come to settle up, the United States remains stubbornly opposed to the referendum, urging the Kurds to put off their aspirations for independence to an indeterminate date in the future. Instead of thanking the Kurds, the world is telling them, with thinly veiled cynicism, “Sorry, Kurdish friends, you were so useful in confronting Islamic terror, but, uh, your timing is not so good. We don’t need you anymore, so why don’t you just go on home? Thanks, again — see you next time.” It is said the referendum will distract attention from the common fight against the Islamic State and interfere with the Iraqi elections scheduled for next year. But everyone knows, except when they choose not to admit it, that the military part of the battle ended with the fall of Mosul, thanks largely to the Kurds themselves. Moreover, who can guarantee that the Iraqi national elections will take place as scheduled rather than being adjourned, just as we are asking the Kurds to adjourn theirs? An independent Kurdistan, the commentators continue, would imperil regional stability. As if Syria, mired in war; Iran, with its revived imperial ambitions; and decomposing Iraq, that artificial creation of the British, are not dangers far greater than little Kurdistan, a secular and democratic friend of the West with an elected parliament and free press! Independence, the talking heads insist, would threaten the territorial integrity of the four nations — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey — across which the Kurdish nation is spread. It is as if these voices are unaware that the present referendum concerns only the Kurds of Iraq, who have no ambition to form a greater Kurdistan with their “brothers” and “sisters” in Turkey and Syria, whose crypto-Marxist leadership is ideologically incompatible with that of the Iraqi Kurds. But what about the reaction of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, one asks? What about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reported threat to cut the pipelines that connect Iraqi Kurdistan to the rest of the world? I do not believe that it is the role of the West to act as a press agent for two dictatorships that detest us, nor do I see why the blackmailing of one’s neighbors should be condemned when practiced by Pyongyang but facilitated when it comes to Tehran or Ankara. Sadly, however, no argument is too feeble to be used to justify our request to “delay.” It feels like an Orwellian nightmare, or a festival of bad faith, in which all arguments are turned into their opposites. What of the Kurds’ organizing themselves into an autonomous island of democracy and peace, even after the Peshmerga had not been paid by Baghdad for three years? That should be enough for them, claim U.S. State Department experts who cannot seem to grasp why the Kurds should want to take the last step from autonomy to independence. What of the Kurds’ controlling oil in the Kirkuk region? Instead of seeing this as a boon, which should provide immediate assurance of their ability to finance the development of their new country, observers seem to think only of the covetousness that these riches might stimulate. And when the two major parties scramble for votes — which anywhere else would be seen as a sign of healthy republican civic culture — this is suddenly viewed as the seeds of divisions and disputes to come!… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents On Topic Links Iraqi Parliament Rejects Iraqi Kurdish Referendum: Jerusalem Post, Sept. 12, 2017—Iraq's parliament voted on Tuesday to reject an Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum planned for Sept. 25, authorizing the prime minister to take all measures to preserve Iraq's unity, a lawmaker said. For Iraq’s Long-Suffering Kurds, Independence Beckons: Tim Arango, New York Times, Sept. 9, 2017—A pair of rusted eyeglasses, a grimy antique watch, torn bank notes and old identification cards. These simple items on display at a museum here in northern Iraq, dug from a mass grave of Kurdish tribesmen massacred by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen, help explain why there is little doubt about how Kurds will vote in a referendum this month on independence from Iraq. Iraqi Kurds’ Referendum Fever Spills Over to Turkish Cousins: Mahmut Bozarslan, Al-Monitor, Sept., 2017—Iraqi Kurdistan is gripped by excitement ahead of the Sept. 25 independence referendum. The sense of hopeful anticipation, however, is not limited to Iraqi Kurds. Their cousins in neighboring Turkey — reeling from Ankara’s heaviest crackdown in years — are watching the process with an equal excitement, hoping that a vote for independence will boost the standing of Kurds across the region. And some are not only watching. Is Barzani the Savior of the Kurdish “Nation,” or is He in Fact its Enemy?: Sargis Sangari, Western Free Press, Aug. 7, 2017—How can Barzani be considered the enemy of a future Kurdish State? Concerning the SEP 25 referendum on Kurdish statehood: do the Kurdish people generally support his bid for statehood, or are they against him? Before the referendum is voted on, can he guarantee that all the Sunni Muslim Kurdish political parties and organizations support his project?