The countdown to the Iraqi Kurdish referendum has begun and the battle lines are drawn. Barzani Is pushing full steam ahead, stating that he sees no other option. Baghdad has taken a legal stance, which is of no concern whatsoever for the Kurds despite their having agreed to the Iraqi constitution.
President Abadi was the first to mention possible military action, but with the important caveat of there being Kurdish military violence against those in the Kurdish region, especially Kirkuk, opposing the referendum. This would not be the first time that a war was started to protect a minority.
Look what happened with the crazy Neo-fascists in Ukraine, who crowed from the podium of their Parliament, the Rada, that they planned to ethnically cleanse Ukraine of all Russians. That country is now a crippled Western puppet, with the standard of living much worse due to looting by its criminal oligarchy class, one supported by the US.
All were blind, or in denial, to the disaster that loomed before them, and of course, none of them will accept responsibility for any of it. This government unaccountability is growing into the biggest national security issue that all citizens face, which includes more countries falling under the control of these criminal oligarchies, where they become un-prosecutable.
Do we have a similar situation to Ukraine looming in Iraq? Can Baghdad really risk a civil war with the Peshmerga while it is still fighting ISIS after a long and devastating war? Where will the retreating ISIS fighters from Deir Ezzor in Syria retreat to but to Iraq, to express their bitterness in defeat by engaging in a never ending terror bombing war which still plagues Iraq?
Iraq finally joins Syria to defend their border
The Iraqi army is pushing toward the Al-Bakumal crossing to close that back door, at least on ISIS convoys being able to cross over, carrying arms and equipment to reinforce the surviving ISIS units there. The SDF Kurds announced they are pivoting north of Deir Ezzor, westward, to clear ISIS from the east side of the Euphrates to the Syrian border, all non-Kurdish territory, and which just happens to have one of the richest oil fields in Syria. The US and SDF are engaged in a war of aggression on Syria, replacing ISIS as the tool to accomplish that.
I don’t think Syria is about to let them take the rich oils field there, and will use its air force to defend them. To allow them to be stolen by the US and SDF, after the huge sacrifices of the Syrian Army and people would stain there hard fought victory. That would pose the question of what will the Russian air force do, and then how would the US coalition respond.
The Russians have said they are only in Syria to fight ISIS. The US says the same, but also that it will protect its proxy Kurdish forces. So far the Kurds have chased ISIS out of their own territory and then selectively taken traditional Arab land and resources to add to the wealth of a future Kurdish independent state.
And yes, it would be one with US military bases on it and all the protection that the Pentagon could supply, so the US still ends up with a Balkanization of Syria it sought from the beginning. You can look to South Korea as a working example.
Russian command demonstrates what it can and will do
The Russians recently showed what they can do to back up their own forces and allies if they want to. HTS in Idlib province, prompted by someone, launched a major attack against the SAA in Hama while the deconfliction logistics were still incomplete. The goal seems to have been to inflict a devastating loss on the SAA to draw emergency reinforcements away from the critical Deir Ezzor battle, possibly so someone else would have a better chance at grabbing the oil wells east of the city.
The HTS offense was successful initially, pushing the SAA back until they reached a point where a Russian police monitoring force of 29 men was cut off and surrounded, providing a plum capture prize to use as hostages. The Russian police fought hard to hold their positions, knowing that the cavalry would be coming, on the ground and from the air. Both Syrian and Russian air power were concentrated to crush the HTS attacking force, and to bomb its logistics bases to bits.
General Rudskol of the Russian command was putting on display what it would inflict upon attacking jihadis threatening to eliminate a Russian monitoring force. After 24 hours of combat, the Russian command reported 850 dead jihadis, 11 tanks, 4 infantry vehicles, 46 technicals, 5 mortars, 20 trucks, and 38 ammunition depots destroyed.
A joint special ops force of Russian and Syrian commandos fought their way through, to relieve the 29 Russian policemen with no KIAs reported. Part of this was due to two SU-25s providing low level air cover for them as they advanced. This day will be studied in Russian military academies for a long time.
I share that story because both sides in Iraq have to be careful not to bring ruin down on themselves after having a long war with ISIS, and now with a country that needs rebuilding. To now stumble into a civil war, thinking there will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow would be delusional.
So far, the Barzani Kurds only have Israel as a public supporter, due to their long and intimate relationship, which includes supporting Kurdish terrorism against Iran, where the MEK alone is credited with 12,000 victims, (four 9-11s), with all their names on the rolls of the Habilian victims’ Association.
The Kurds and regional Politics
Turkey knows that independence for Iraqi Kurds would light a time-bomb fuse that could not be put out. Its posing that it could trigger a regional conflict was not an exaggeration. Iran has promised to close its border with Iraq if the Kurdistan referendum takes place.
Turkey, for now, has promised it would impose sanctions, but would that include the off-the-books oil exports that have flowed out the back door via the Turkish pipeline? Turkey has its own looting oligarchy. Would they give that up?
At the end of the day I suspect this may all be about money behind a nationalist smokescreen. The Kurds want a bigger share of Iraq’s oil wealth and are gambling this is a good time to get it. But what has not been reported much is that they just did this back in 2014.
Baghdad’s 2014 deal with the Kurdish region
Baghdad got 550,000 barrels of oil a day from the Kurds for 17% of the Iraqi budget, plus anything else going out the back door via Turkey that could all be in Barzani’s pocket, or his war fund. The Peshmerga got a billion dollars in military support to fight ISIS, and yes, you can assume that a good hunk of that money disappeared.
What the Kurds need is long term development, but the allure of a monthly stipend from the countries oil wealth is very seductive, as are the one-hour-a-day jobs that many Saudis have that work for the government. A moral rot consumes a country where everyone fights to get on the gravy train.
My bet is that Barzani is thinking he will use the referendum to say get his cut of the budget up to say 25%. But I think that is a bad bet as Baghdad would look like a fool to be renegotiating the Iraqi Constitution every few years to suit the Kurds. Will it decide to see “a permanent solution” to the Kurdish problem which could be a disaster for both? That is the big question, and we also have to ask who would benefit the most from that disaster, with the answer being “the usual suspects”.
The Kurds’ weak economic point is their having an undiversified economy where everyone looks toward increased oil revenues as their salvation. But for Barzani it has been a great unifier politically. Baghdad has been struggling with its own serious economic problems where ironically, despite its energy wealth, much of that failure is due to not having had enough electricity for manufacturing businesses to increase critically needed domestic production and jobs, and reduce imports.
Iraq also has a ruling class that has been a looting class, taking its purloined funds out of the country, to the UAE generally. But fortunately the new Iranian gas pipelines are coming on stream to fix the electric power shortage so manufacturers can operate more than a few hours a day.
Showdown at the Kirkuk corral
Barzani and Abadi are playing a big game of chicken now, hoping the other will blink and back off. The Iraqi popular militias (PMUs) think that a civil war is unavoidable, and are ready for it. But if someone can fund the PMUs as Iran has done, then outside powers can intercede to help the Kurds, and will do so.
Some think that could be the Saudis wanting an anti-Iran base in Iraqi Kurdistan. After all, the King had stated that regime change in Iran was his main goal. Good luck with that your highness. But the Saudis have now publicly come out against the referendum, maybe feeling that a civil war would push Baghdad more into the hands of Iran.
We are just starting to climb out of the tragic mess in Syria and also Iraq, with what looks like a special delivery service bringing a new replacement war to the region. I fear for the Iraqi people as I did for the Syrians during my 2014 trip as an election monitor.
I could never have foreseen the turnaround that has happened, not in my wildest imagination. Syria is now the template for how not to be swallowed by the US Deep State and its allies. You have to have powerful friends who also know they are on the menu, and that a coalition defense is the only way to survive.
Jim W. Dean, managing editor for Veterans Today, producer/host of Heritage TV Atlanta, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.