FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Transformation of Iraq: Kurds Have Lost 40% of Their Territory

The Kurds may have lost 40 per cent of the territory they previously controlled over the last two days as they withdraw from areas long disputed with Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are pulling back from a great swathe of land in northern Iraq stretching from Syria in the west to Iran in the east.

It is becoming clear that the two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both agreed at a meeting on Sunday that they had no choice but to withdraw from Kirkuk and other disputed territories. They knew that they were too weak to fight the Iraqi security forces and they had no allies to whom they could appeal for help. Kurdish leaders are now blaming each other for the debacle, which will go down as one of the great disasters in Kurdish history.

The political geography of northern Iraq is be transformed, much to the disadvantage of the Kurds. Kurdish military units have retreated  from the Sinjar region close to the Syrian border which is home to the Yazidis who were massacred and enslaved by Isis when they advanced in August 2014. A paramilitary force made up of Yazidis but owing allegiance to Baghdad has taken over.

At the other end of the dividing line between Kurd and non-Kurd, Peshmerga have left the towns of Khanaqin, Jaloula and Mandali close to the Iranian border north east of Baghdad. These are all places where the Kurdish parties had exerted themselves to firmly establish their rule in the last few years and are now lost, probably forever.

 

Peshmerga have also abandoned the last two oilfields they held near Kirkuk city, thus ceding all the gains the Kurds have made territorially since the US invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Possession of the Kirkuk oilfields had been considered essential if the Iraqi Kurds were ever going to achieve economic independence.

Celebrations are widespread in Baghdad at what is seen as a second great victory for Iraq and the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi this year. The first success was the capture of Mosul after a nine-month siege in July and the second is the unexpectedly easy defeat of the Kurds this week in the wake of their self-destructive referendum on independence on 25 September.

“What I fear now is triumphalism in Baghdad where there is talk about enforcing central government authority everywhere in Iraq,” said one Kurdish commentator who did not want his name published.  This might mean Baghdad putting heavy political and military pressure on the three Kurdish provinces that make up the Kurdistan Regional Government and which now look vulnerable.

The Iraqi President Fuad Masum, himself a Kurd, has called for dialogue between the central government and the Kurdish leaders to resolve the crisis sparked by the referendum. Mr Abadi referred to the referendum as “finished and a thing of the past” but also called for dialogue “under the constitution”, which would rule out Kurdish independence. There is no doubt that the balance of power has swung dramatically towards Baghdad and away from the Kurdish capital Irbil.

Mr Barzani and his KDP party sought on Monday to blame the PUK Peshmerga for the unopposed advance of the Iraqi security forces, accusing them of betraying the Kurds by reaching a separate deal with Baghdad. But Kurdish sources have told The Independent that both KDP and PUK had agreed that they were too weak to fight for Kirkuk, though orders did not reach all Peshmerga commanders in time. A hospital in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah says that it has received the bodies of 25 dead fighters and treated 44 wounded. Overall, casualties on both sides have been slight which is evidence that a deal on withdrawal had been struck before the Iraqi government advance. KDP Peshmerga withdrew from Sinjar on Monday and from the positions they held in Kirkuk province in what was evidently a prearranged retreat.

Mr Barzani himself is blaming “unilateral decisions taken by Kurdish politicians”, an accusation that presumably does not include himself though his ill-judged decision to hold a referendum brought on a confrontation with Baghdad in which the Kurds held much the weaker hand. The referendum was opposed by all international and regional powers with the exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia, neither of whom was in a position to be of any practical help to the Kurds. Mr Barzani also chose to challenge Mr Abadi just after his armed forces had won a big victory in Mosul and he was unlikely to back down.

The US opposed the referendum and has kept its distance from the crisis. President Trump could not have sounded more disengaged saying: “We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing,” and adding that “we’ve had for many years a very good relationship with the Kurds as you know, and we’ve also been on the side of Iraq.”

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 02, 2020
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
The Dark Secrets in the Fed’s Last Wall Street Bailout Are Getting a Devious Makeover in Today’s Bailout
Jason Hirthler
The Temple of Self-Gratification
Eve Ottenberg
Prisons are a COVID-19 Petri Dish
P. Sainath
What We Should Do About COVID-19
Rev. William Alberts
The Coronavirus Rained on Trump’s Easter Charade
Stephen Corry
It’s Time to Clean Ecofascism Out of Environmentalism
Binoy Kampmark
The Swedish Alternative: Coronavirus as a Grand Gamble
Rebecca Gordon
The Future May Be Female, But the Pandemic is Patriarchal
Thomas Knapp
By The Time We Notice We’re Hungry, It May Be Too Late
David Rovics
An Open Letter to My Landlord #CancelRent
Simone Chun
Appeal for Humanitarian Diplomacy in the Korean Peninsula
Liu Jian
How COVID-19 Changed Our Lives: a Report From Beijing
Dean Baker
The Return of Infrastructure Week
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Sues Feds to Stop a Project That Will Kill 72 Yellowstone Grizzly Bears in Wyoming’s Upper Green and Gros Ventre Rivers
Elliot Sperber
Plague Days
April 01, 2020
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
No Pandemic-Related Pause? VA Privatization Leaves Veterans Waist Deep in Another Big Muddy 
Kenneth Surin
The UK and Covid-19 Crisis
Jack Wareham - Dylan Burgoon
“Whose University? Our University!” The Struggle for a COLA at UC Berkeley
Erik Molvar
Oil industry Exploits Pandemic as Excuse to Dodge Federal Regulations, Fees
Robert Jensen
Apocalypse, Now and Forever
Jake Johnston – Kira Paulemon
COVID-19 in Haiti: the Current Response and Challenges
Jen Moore
Guatemalan Water Protectors Persist, Despite Mining Company Threats
Danny Shaw
“The Coronavirus is Man-Made:” the Conspiracy Theory Trap 
Nafeez Ahmed
Former WHO Director: 8-Week Suppression Strategy Could Stop US COVID Crisis in Its Tracks
Frances Madeson
Death Camps in the Making: New York’s Prisons During a Time of Pandemic
Clark T. Scott
The White House and the CDC are United in Stupidity
George Ochenski
What Does COVID-19 Have to Do With Industrial Pollution?
Norman Solomon
Trump’s Mass Negligent Homicide Doesn’t Let Democratic Leaders Off the Hook
Scott Owen
Another New Peace
Elizabeth Schmidt
Lessons From Africa: Military Intervention Fails to Counter Terrorism
Greta Anderson
What’s the Hang Up on Releasing Adult Lobos?
Ted Rall
The Speech Trump Must But Cannot Give
Marshall Sahlins
Trumpty’s Country
March 31, 2020
Jonathan Cook
Netanyahu Uses Coronavirus to Lure Rival Gantz into ‘Emergency’ Government
Vijay Prashad, Du Xiaojun – Weiyan Zhu
Growing Xenophobia Against China in the Midst of CoronaShock
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Chernobyl Moment: the US May Lose Its Status as World Superpower and Not Recover
Roger Harris
Beyond Chutzpah: US Charges Venezuela With Nacro-Terrorism
M. K. Bhadrakumar
Has America Reached Its Endgame in Afghanistan?
Thomas Klikauer
COVID-19 in Germany: Explaining a Low Death Rate
Dave Lindorff
We’ve Met the Enemy and It’s a Tiny Virus
Binoy Kampmark
Barbaric Decisions: Coronavirus, Refusing Bail and Julian Assange
Nicolas J S Davies
Why is the U.S. so Exceptionally Vulnerable to Covid-19?
James Bovard
The Deep State’s Demolition of Democracy
Michael Doliner
Face Off: the Problem With Social Distancing
John Feffer
The Politics of COVID-19
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail