The Kurdish Opposition and Meeting the Challenge of War

Diyari Salih

Many anti-Barzani politicians in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) have complained about the Kurdish current preparations for an armed dispute with the Iraqi central government. They say that there must be a new formula to rearrange the political scene in all Iraq. And there is a need to fresh minds for overcoming the common challenges. They insist that clash is not a suitable option for anyone but only for those losers who are presently threatening the security of the innocent people. The Arabs and the Kurds must find a peaceful way to step back from the danger of ethnic and sectarian tensions. If not, the outcomes will be catastrophic.
In the aftermath of the referendum on independence in the IKR, the relations between Erbil and Baghdad have gotten worse. The Iraqi PM, Haidar al-Abadi, took his decision to spread the federal forces in Kirkuk city which had once been under the control of the Kurdish forces. Additionally, he ordered the Iraqi army to cease the Kurdish domination on the airports, border crossings and exporting oil by the Kurds. In this regard, Turkey affirmed that it would allow the transfer of oil from IKR, yet it would not pay the financial returns to Erbil but instead to Baghdad. Consequently, Erbil feels that it has been defeated in this battle and then become isolated. Hence, some pro-Barzani politicians are now thinking of conflict for different causes and pretexts. By so doing, they would rescue the ruling party in Erbil. Also, they would receive the international sympathy with their dream, separation from Iraq.
For political motivation, the religious radicalism has started to cast a shadow over the social life in the IKR. Recently, a well known Kurdish Islamist extremist, Mullah krekar, announced that a Sunni Jihadist mobilization must be formed for countering the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). He urged for a long war in the IKR against the Iraqi troops. Moreover, he criticized Erbil because of its assistance to Baghdad during the armed campaign to destroy IS in Mosul. In this respect, he emphasized that undermining the offensive power of IS has led to increasing the Shiite influence. For that, the Kurds are now in their most vulnerable states. Krekar is implicitly calling for a Kurdish-IS alliance. He addressed a letter to the local and foreign IS' followers for gathering in Kirkuk to target the PMUs. It is remarkable that the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the ruling party led by Masoud Barzani in the IKR, did not condemn such statements.
And besides that, the Union of Muslim Scholars of Kurdistan issued a Fatwa (Religious verdict) claiming the Kurds for fighting the PMUs. These clerics stigmatized the Iraqi Shiite groups as Iranian forces. As well, they confirmed that such a fight would be a sacred duty of defending the honor, the Kurdish land, and the right religion, the Sunni Islam. In addition, they stated that who dies in this conflict is considered as a martyr. Therefore, they requested the Sunni Muslims and organizations such as the association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, Al Azhar in Egypt, and the association of Muslim Scientists in Saudia to help the Kurds at this difficult juncture. Here, the overlap between politics and religion to manipulate people's fates can be noticed. As such, many deluded Kurds would think there is really a holy mission awaiting them in the next months.
The US, in turn, cautioned the PMUs of overrunning Erbil. Many American retired politicians indicated that Iran wants to tighten its grip on the IKR for geopolitical reasons. Accordingly, they encouraged their authorities to endorse the Kurds. Zalmay Khalilzad, the former American ambassador to Iraq 2005-2007, recently declared that the US goals towards the Iraqi Kurds are still the same but the strategy has been changed. He added, " It is not over, Kurdistan has not been served up to Iran". Furthermore, the Secretary of State, Rix Tillerson, assured that the Iranian militias must leave Iraq. Who follows such Kurdish-American signs might reach a conclusion that there was a strategic consensus between them at the object and the time of publishing such assertions.
The emergence of these radical voices has coincided with the risky demands of some hard-line politicians in Baghdad. They are putting pressure on the Iraqi PM to give the green light to the Iraqi forces to enter Erbil for arresting Barzani. The latter, on his part, is now seeking for a way to fortify his political future. Hence, he remains silent on the callings launched by the Islamists. Therefore, the Kurdish opposition warns that more chaos in the relations between Erbil and Baghdad will be inevitable.
To avoid this, the most prominent Kurdish parties have submitted their view towards solving the crisis. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Change Movement, and the Coalition for Justice and Development recommended that the problem should first be internally solved in Kurdistan itself. Then, the Kurds would be able to reach a fair solution to their troubled relations with the Iraqi central government. Hence, they insisted on these essential points: reactivating the role of the Kurdish parliament seriously, disbanding Barzani's government, excluding the racist politicians, and creating a government of national salvation. After that, a new Kurdish delegation would be sent to negotiate with Baghdad under the Iraqi constitution and the sponsorship of the UN. This is the only way to formulate a national project to all Iraqis. This cannot be achieved without a real support from the regional and international players. Otherwise, no one will have the capacity to put an end to the bloodshed.
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.