The CSS Blog Network

The Consequences of Politicized Forces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Courtesy of Jan Sefti/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 19 January 2017.

The politicization of the Kurdish military and security forces has a diverse and severe impact on human security, and stability in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The lack of a nationalized armed force in Kurdistan remains the biggest threat to its future. The Iraqi constitution allows the Kurdistan Regional Government to form its local force and legalize the existence of the Peshmerga, but Baghdad does not intervene in the details of the formations and the recruitment process. The ruling parties in Kurdistan have the ultimate power over mobilization, recruitment, and financing of the security forces.

Kurdistan has been an autonomous region since 1992. It emerged as a quasi-state after the establishment of the no-fly zone in northern Iraq by the United States – along with the United Kingdom and France – which put an end to Saddam Hussein’s murderous attacks on the Kurds. From this time onwards, The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been predominantly ruled by two major parties; the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Mustafa Barzani, established the former in 1946 while Jalal Talabani had founded PUK in 1975 when he split from Barzani’s KDP. Although the two parties have fought the Iraqi regime in the 1980s, they also fought one another.

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Are Conditions Ripening for an Iraqi Kurdish State?

Abstract

Courtesy of Mustafa Khayat/Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 5 January 2017.

The failure of Iraq, breakdown of Syria, and changes in Turkey have created opportunities for Kurds in all three countries. They are not quite the regional kingmakers that some Kurds have boasted they might become, but Kurdish political and military power is now a growing factor in Middle East geopolitics. This has produced not only unique challenges, but also new possibilities for U.S. policy in the region. As President-Elect Donald J. Trump shapes his administration and officials look at the Middle East beyond the battles against the so-called Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa, they will have to come to terms with the Kurds, some of whom are intent on using their new clout and political developments around them to push for a sovereign Kurdistan.

It is unlikely that Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) or its fighting force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), or Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will realize their objectives of statehood, but Iraq’s Kurds may be in a far more advantageous position to press for independence. Significant obstacles remain for Iraqi Kurds, but the combination of regional instability, the coming liberation of Mosul, and the state of Iraqi politics may help advance the historic goals of Kurdish leaders.

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Partitioning Iraq: Make a Detailed Case, or Cease and Desist

Relief from the palace of King Sargon II in his capital city of Dur-Sharrukin (Khorsabad). Courtesy Mary Harrsch/Flickr

This article was originally published by War On The Rocks on 16 May 2016.

Iraq is once again in political turmoil, and once again we are hearing calls to partition the country into three ethno-sectarian cantonments: Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurd. The partition trope resurfaces periodically, most often while Iraq looks “too hard to fix.” Advocates of partition suggest that Iraq is a false construct of the century-old Sykes-Picot treaty, and that Iraqis are incapable of sustaining a heterogeneous state. Putting aside the fact that the Sykes-Picot narrative is at best contested, it is time to put the partition trope to the test and then, hopefully, to rest. The mostly non-Iraqi voices who want to divide the country into thirds owe the Iraqi people and the rest of the world extensive, detailed clarification. Surely, any plan to drastically restructure Iraq must be more thoughtful and detailed than the widely condemned 2003 plan to invade Iraq. At the very least, advocates for partition should address some fundamental questions. If they cannot answer these satisfactorily then they should pause before reissuing what many Iraqis view as disheartening, and even inflammatory, positions about their state.

First, who wants to break the state into three parts, either under “loose federalism” or as separate states? There appears to be no evidence that the current Sunni revolt seeks sectarian partition. Other than the outlying Islamic State terrorists, Sunni Arab Iraqis want to be part of and, in some cases to control, the state. Most Sunni Arabs I have spoken with are terrified by the idea of partition. It does not appear that leaders from Iraq’s powerful Da’wa party, or even Muqtada al-Sadr, seek partition. While the two major Kurdish parties—the PUK and the KDP—do seek eventual partition or confederation for themselves, and while the head of the PUK has suggested three way partition, neither party has pushed hard for this solution and neither party can claim to represent Iraqi Arab interests. Arguments for partition cannot be predicated on the idea that this is what the Iraqis want. If Iraqis do eventually seek three-way partition, then there is no need to advocate the position, as they will get there of their own accord.

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Could an Independent Iraqi Kurdistan Defend Itself?

Kurdish Peshmerga and PKK fighters. Image: Kurdishstruggle/Flickr

This article was originally published by Offiziere.ch on October 22, 2015. Republished with permission.

Most Iraqi Kurds want independence and do not trust the Iraqi army to protect them. But the question is — how would an independent Iraqi-Kurdistan defend itself?

It won’t be easy. The Kurdish region is sandwiched between the Iraqi state, Turkey and Iran. All three states oppose Kurdish independence. The Kurdish military is a factionalized slew of paramilitary groups with mostly light weapons.

For the Kurds, Baghdad may very well be the capital of a foreign country. This is why the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is annoyed that arms shipments to the Peshmerga go through Baghdad. No surprise, the Iraqi government keeps the heaviest weapons for itself. » More