The Kurdish Referendum and the Geopolitical Polarizations

Diyari Salih

For far too many years, the Iraqi Kurds have felt that they could not be part of Iraq. They faced various setbacks in their dealing with the Iraqi successive governments and paid a high cost for this. However, many important powers convinced them to work with the other Iraqi groups to create a new Iraq after the ousting of Saddam's regime in 2003. But the relations between Baghdad and Erbil were fluctuating and reached its worst in the most recent years. Though the Kurdish politicians themselves were one of the reasons for this tension, they unilaterally decided to hold their referendum on Independence in last September. As known, this step has led to complicate the situation at different levels.
Locally, the Iraqi central government in Baghdad rejects the plebiscite, and it is now in a disagreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil on several constitutional matters.
Regionally, both Iran and Turkey are against the Kurdish separatism. This Kurdish dream of self-determination threatens their national security and puts their territorial integrity at risk. Hence, they are supporting the Iraqi side in its refusal to accept the results of this referendum.
Globally, the US and its allies declared that they do not endorse the Kurdish leaders in their bid to create their own independent state. Instead, the US calls the Kurds for continuing to be part of the unified Iraq. Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, reflected the frank attitude of the American administration by saying: "the US does not recognize Kurdistan’s independence referendum"
Nonetheless, The US has recently affirmed that it would not abandon the Kurds if they are militarily attacked by the others. This sends a clear message to the US rivals (Baghdad-Tehran-Ankara) that they will not be given the opportunity to dominate the Iraqi fate.
The White House knows well that the hawks of the Iraqi-Iranian-Turkish alliance are currently planning for a defensive war. The American decision makers imagine that such a coalition will oblige the Iraqi people to adopt this armed option. In this context, Kirkuk city will be the best target for them. Controlling this oil-rich city is regarded as the grand prize to them. They completely aware that depriving the Kurds of the annexation of this city to their supposed state will mean destroying this new entity economically and strategically. History informs us that any country cannot survive for a long time insofar as it is landlocked and poor in its natural resources. Also, the new independent Kurdistan would be surrounded by enemies. This will certainly reduce the chances of the Kurdish independence.
Under this mounting tension, the Iraqis exchange some rumors that the US is presently preparing for Plan B. The Trump regime has begun to help the IS' members to gather in specific spots in the north of Iraq with the assistance of the Kurds.
Through Social media, considerably affecting on shaping the public opinion, the Iraqis are saying that the terrorists in Hawija district of Kirkuk province have surrendered themselves to the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga.
After the liberation of Mosul city, the Iraqi forces launched a new operation to free Hawija from IS. This district is known as the Iraqi Kandahar. The most dangerous native and foreign fighters have assembled there since 2014. Moreover, the information from the battlefield of Hawija indicates that the majority of Daesh members fled the fighting. Additionally, they preferred to become prisoners in the hands of the Kurdish forces in order not to be killed by the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). It is now said that the Kurdish authorities have sent those criminals to special camps in the areas within the Kurdish control of Kirkuk, so that they could back the Kurds in their standing up for this strategic city. Consequently, we can say that the fight between the Peshmerga and the PMU is imminent.
The hard-line politicians in the US are presently stimulating the scenario of war. For instance, the former American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said: " the US does not consider the Iraqi government dominated by radical Shiite partisans as a friend. So, the Americans must reduce their military support to Baghdad and develop a new strategy to change the situation there in favor of their interests. They should also aid the Kurds as much as they can". This points out that the US will look at any Iraqi military operation in Kirkuk as a step to serve the Iranian- Turkish interests and therefore it will not sit idly by while the enemies enter its living space.
Unless the approach of the Zero-Sum game is denied, the opposing polarizations on the Iraqi territory will yield more escalation and bitter fighting later on. So, all these parties must immediately think about the outcomes of this scene and about the urgent need for a Win-Win deal for all to find a way out of this great stalemate.
Diyari Salih
is an Iraqi academic, Ph.D. in Political Geography, Baghdad, Post-Doctorate in International Relations, Warsaw, Focuses on the Geopolitical Issues in Iraq.