Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: The Kurds Are on Their Own

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: The Kurds Are on Their Own

Article excerpt

The routing of Isis in northern Iraq ought to be a time of international celebration, but as ever in the Middle East, there is no such thing as a straightforward victory. No sooner had Isis been driven away -- though not quite vanquished -- than the next great struggle commenced, this time between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish forces who for the past three years have been holding back Isis from the city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oilfields.

This week, Iraqi forces stormed into Kirkuk and raised the country's official flag, removing the Kurdish flag which was raised there in 2014. While Kirkuk lies outside the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region agreed in 2005 to offer the Kurds some kind of homeland, it has for the past three years operated as part of that region, not least because it has been effectively cut off from Baghdad. The new battle for Kirkuk has become a proxy for the wider campaign for Kurdish independence, which culminated in an unofficial referendum last month where 93 per cent supported secession.

This was a strategic mistake. It antagonised Baghdad, which then grounded all international flights to Kurdistan. To complicate matters further, Baghdad appears to have enlisted the help of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose leader General Qassem Suleimani was in Kirkuk this week. For Iran, the battle for Kirkuk is a proxy for something different: a general power struggle where it hopes to subsume Iraq into its axis of Shia influence -- and deny Israel the hope of an alliance with a democratic Kurdistan.

Few would envy foreign office ministers and officials who must venture into this region, so fraught with religious, ethnic and political rivalries. Even Kurdistan's regional government is a DUP-Sinn Fein-style stitch-up between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). To make matters worse, there is the involvement in Kirkuk of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the guerrilla group which for decades has been fighting for an autonomous Kurdish state within Turkey.

Traditionally, Britain has been opposed to Kurdish claims of independence -- as have most members of the international community. It's hard to see why countries seeking a two-state solution to the Palestinian question are opposed to one for Kurdistan. The UN has backed an independent Palestinian state, but the Kurds' claim to autonomy is rejected by almost everyone -- in spite of their having demonstrated that they can run and defend their country. …

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