In the after math of the September 2017 Kurdish independence referedum, Prime Minister Haidar Abadi demanded that the Kurds relinquish control of the areas it occupied in Kirkuk during the summer of 2014. This could have led to a war with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) across northern Iraq. Instead, divisions within the two main Kurdish parties the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led to the Peshmerga not only giving up the territory the premier demanded, but Kirkuk city and disputed areas they took in Diyala and Ninewa. There were some armed clashes as well. To try to give perspective to this shocking series of events are several experts giving their personal views.
Fanar Haddad is a Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore. He can be followed on Twitter @fanarhaddad
This is a completely self-inflicted wound for the Kurds and particularly for the KDP. This will provide Abadi a major boost ahead of next year’s elections and will also bolster the Iraqi state’s authority and standing. However, it is essential that Baghdad are not taken by hubris or vindictive triumphalism: if Baghdad insists on keeping Kurdish Iraqi then they have to appear to Kurdish sensibilities and not be seen as a sort of colonial force reasserting its authority. Baghdad is in a position to negotiate from a position of strength and this should be used to try to address the long-standing issues that have soured relations between Baghdad and Erbil. Institutionalized, legally binding, transparent and formal mechanisms must be established to govern relations between the two sides in a mutually beneficial way. Perhaps more precarious are the political dynamics within the KRG. It would seem that the credibility of both the KDP and the PUK has been dealt a near-fatal blow – the former for authoring this blunder and the latter for its perceived betrayal of the Kurdish cause. Intra KDP and intra PUK fault lines have also been inflamed. All in all it is a meltdown on par with the Iraqi meltdown of 2014.
Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and research fellow at the Central European University. He can be followed on Twitter @harith_hassan
A lot has been said or written on intra-Kurdish rivalries and their role in the success of Iraqi forces to redeploy in Kirkuk. I would like to highlight another aspect that conerns Abadi’s future and intra-Shi’a rivalries. No question Abadi’s popularity was boosted after reclaiming Kirkuk, especially because of the rising chauvinism on both sides and strong anti-Barzani’s sentiments in his base. But Abadi’s actions were legitimized by his framing of the move as one intended to restore state authority. If this turns into another inter-communal conflict, he is going to lose his moral and legal advantage and the international understanding. He needs to build on the same ‘state-builder’ frame by dealing more aggressively with irregular groups and facing hardliners and militias in his Shi’a camp. He has accumulated enough political capital to move in this direction and take the risk of alienating the most extremist segments of his constituency in order to win the long-term challenge of stabilization and state-building.
Diliman Abdulkader is a Research Fellow at the Endowment for Middle East Truth. He can be followed on Twitter @D_abdulkader
The loss of Kirkuk was certainly a surprise to Kurds across the Kurdistan region including those in Kirkuk. After all, the Kurdish government led by de-facto president Masoud Barzani raised the hopes of all Kurds, included the disputed province in the independence referendum and vowed to defend the city at any cost. The unfortunate reality was that he was nowhere to be seen when Kirkuk fell to the Shiite proxy Popular Mobilization Unite (PMU) and the Iraqi army. Barzani did not even show his face when addressing the Kurdish nation, instead he had his mouth piece media Kurdistan 24 and Rudaw read an accusing statement out loud. He certainly failed Kurds, did not take responsibility for the betrayal all while blaming everyone but himself and his party, even though they hold top government posts. What happened in Kirkuk should have been expected (I wrote a piece via the Raddington Report on Kirkuk here), the Iraqi government warned Kurds along with international players including the US and United Nations Security Council to postpone the referendum. Barzani acted unilaterally as always, sacrificed Kurdish lives and again is aiming to extend his illegal term as president. The KRG, led by Barzani has now lost all territory gained during the fight against the Islamic State (estimated at 40%) and the lifeline of KRGs oil export. The unraveling of Kirkuk was a Kurdish problem, Kurds shouldn’t be so quick to blame the US- we chose to ignore all calls.
Kirkuk is currently in the hands of the Iraqi government, the PMU is expected to withdraw completely on Iraqi prime minister’s orders, Haidar Abadi. A faction of the Kurdish party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) under Lahur Talabani who commands the anti-terror force has cut a deal with Baghdad to control Kurdish areas, most Kurds see this as undermining the KRG. Ultimately Baghdad is now able to control Kirkuk’s oil fields, boosting Iraq’s supplies while choking the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Rao Komar is a former Junior Intelligence Analyst at the SecDev Group. He can be followed on Twitter @RaoKomar747
The fall of Kirkuk to the Iraqi military and Popular Mobilization Forces is a serious upset for the KRG and in particular the KDP. On the political front, the KRG is now extremely divided, with the PUK and KDP both blaming each other for the loss of the city. The territory loses, while certainly bad are perhaps overshadowed by the longterm economic fallout of the KRG losing control of the Bai Hassan and Avana oil fields. As a result of the loss of these oil fields, oil exports to Turkey through the KRG-controlled Ceyhan pipeline have been cut in half, falling by 300,000 barrels per day. With Baghdad controlling these key fields in the disputed territories, a new agreement would have to be reached between Baghdad and the KRG for exports to continue. The KRG would thus be unable to fund its basic governing operations, until an oil-sharing agreement is reached with Baghdad, an unlikely event until clashes between the two sides stop. Effectively, while the KDP put in motion these events by conducting the independence referendum, at this point it is in their best interests to seek to deescalate and negotiate. The longer this conflict continues, the more Baghdad’s position is strengthened, as the effects of the loss in oil revenue begin to effect the KRG and the Peshmerga, leading to a decay of KRG institutions and KRG security forces in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Sajad Jiyad is the managing director of the Al-Bayan Center for Planning and Studies. He can be followed on Twitter @SajadJiyad
The federal government had taken measures in the immediate days after the referendum to reassert federal control of some functions vital to sovereignty such as airspace and borders PM Abadi was clear that Baghdad was willing to do more in order to get the KRG to step back from the secessionist push, but there was no constructive reply from Erbil, essentially ignoring all the warning signs. The redeployment of ISF in Kirkuk and the disputed areas is a pushback against Kurdish overreach and will likely force a settlement sooner than expected, which is what the international community wants to see. I think we will get some tentative agreements on the immediate way forward when a KRG delegation visits Baghdad and then after elections next year the complex process of a longer term settlement, including Article 140 and laws on federal/regional issues, can begin. The federal/regional relationship is more balanced now, and despite how some Kurds may feel about this being a defeat, the current Prime Minister in Baghdad does not want that and is looking for more reasonable attitudes and faces in Erbil that he can work with.
Lukman Faily is the former Iraqi Ambassador to the United States and Japan. He can be followed on Twitter @FailyLukman
Following the liberation of Daesh, Iraqis faced a new challenge which was how to deal with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) request for implementation of an independent Referendum for Kurdistan which was illegal and not within the boundaries of the Iraqi constitution that the Kurds themselves played a key role in its formation and thereafter participated at the high levels within the various Iraqi cabinets and central government posts.
On September 25th, 2017 the Referendum took place but Baghdad ignored its results and requested that KRG leadership renounce it as void. Baghdad’s calls were ignored and hence PM Abadi felt obliged (due to public and legal pressure) to deal firmly with the new separatist approach by the KRG. No real dialogue to resolve the issue is possible until the KRG declares the Referendum as a mistake. Here Baghdad feels it has the legal mandate, popular support, regional and international support to deal firmly with the separatist move by the Kurdish leadership. The Kirkuk military operation and its return to the central government’s control is one manifestation of this. Kirkuk was always a contentious issue; it is now firmly under GOI control. However, it does require very delicate and careful management. Its cosmopolitan nature can always be a good acid test as how one can manage multilateral communities. Following Kirkuk GOI will perform other actions to bring back under control all federal entities (such as airports and borders) and facilities (including offices and oil fields).
As to the whole Referendum chapter, what we see is a clear example where the political leadership (Sunni/Shia/Kurds and others) have not been able to resolve some of the core challenges they have been facing since 2003. These challenges relate to utilizing dialogue as the only method for solving their many disputes.
Iraq has many challenges which many have not been addressed yet. To address them peacefully, substantial change in political culture, constitutional reforms and good governance need to take place. Even if the government can find some solutions to these new crises, the underlying challenges in relation to political and social harmony requires much more soul searching by all stakeholders who instigated a needless Referendum in which Kurds will feel its consequences for some time to come.
The upcoming general election in mid-2018 should provide a new lease of life to a political process which has been unable to deliver results to its various constituents. Democracy is what people are trying to practice, better governance and services is what they expect in return. What we saw in the aftermath of the Referendum is a wrong process for democracy-in-action.
Kamal Chomani is a Non-resident Fellow at the Tahrir Institute for the Middle East Policy. He can be followed on Twitter @KamalChomani
What happened in Kirkuk had three dimensions that were inevitable to happen. First, the failure of the KRG to unite the Peshmerga and security apparatus would either bring collapse and defeats like this or the one in Sinjar back in 2014. Second, the end of the KRG-Baghdad vulnerable, unconstructive and tricky relations. Third, the wrong judgement and miscalculations and inability of Masoud Barzani and his allies and advisers to understand the regional, international, geopolitical dynamics would for sure bring such disasters. It was wrong that the KRG forced a de facto rule in Kirkuk and over the oil fields, it was also wrong that the Iraqi Government has now controlled Kirkuk and its oil fields. Therefore, Kirkuk needs a constructive sustainable resolution of the factors in this region will end in vain. I personally suggest the idea of regionalization of Kirkuk where power is shared among the various religious and ethnic and national components of Kirkuk. Kirkuk must have a special status where neither the KRG nor the Iraqi Government can undermine its status or use one against the other. That’s for sure true for the regional countries, even international powers due to its richness in oil and diversity. Of course, no one would be interested in diversity if it was not for the oil.