Friday, July 18, 2014

Costs Of Iraq’s Kurds Moving Into The Disputed Territories

Since the June 2014 fall of Mosul many articles have been written that the Kurds are the winner of the on-going conflict. For instance on June 15 Time published “The Only Winners in Iraq’s Chaos; the Kurds,” June 16 the Financial Times had “Iraq’s Kurds look the biggest winners in militants’ push,” June 19 the Associated Press printed “Kurds win land and oil in Iraq’s chaos but face new challenges,” and July 16 the Guardian ran “Revisiting Kurdistan: ‘If there is a success story in Iraq, it’s here,’” They usually talk about how the Kurds have finally been able to seize the disputed city of Kirkuk and its oil wealth, and then the people’s desire for independence being just around the corner. What many of those reports missed were the high costs the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is incurring during this period. It has greatly expanded its territory and now borders the Islamic State (IS), which it is getting into constant battles with. This is costing the KRG lots of money during a period of financial crisis and almost daily casualties as well.
The Kurdish peshmerga moved into positions abandoned by the ISF during its collapse in northern Iraq in June (KNN)

The Kurdish peshmerga is now facing off against the Islamic State (IS) across northern Iraq. When Mosul fell in mid-June 2014 most of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) units in Ninewa, Salahaddin, Kirkuk, and Diyala disintegrated. The peshmerga moved into this vacuum and secured the disputed territories that had been abandoned by the army and police. Shortly afterward fighting started with the Islamic State (IS) across this new border. On June 11 for example there was a gunfight in Sinjar, Ninewa, and then another the next day along the Dohuk border. That quickly escalated as two peshmerga were kidnapped in Mosul on June 16, and a peshmerga captain was killed in Zahra, Ninewa on June 20 by a sniper. In Diyala the Kurds moved into Jalawla in the northeast, which has been a constant flashpoint with insurgents. On June 13 gunfire was exchanged there. After that there was constant fighting in that area. June 15 4 peshmerga were killed and 37 wounded in three different incidents, June 16 2 more died, and June 18 there was one more fatality and six injured in and around Sadiya and Jalawla. In Salahaddin the peshmerga moved into the Tuz Kharmato district, and fighting started there on June 21 with 2 killed and 7 wounded in Tuz and 2 more injured in Sulaiman Bek. Finally in Kirkuk, much of the conflict has been in the Hawija area with 2 Asayesh killed and 3 peshmerga wounded in two separate incidents there on June 11, and the outskirts of Kirkuk City where an Asayesh was wounded June 12, and then 2 peshmerga killed and four wounded by an IED on June 15. Since then Diyala and Kirkuk have seen the most casualties by far. From June 8 to July 14 34 peshmerga have died and 88 have been wounded in Diyala and 33 peshmerga and Asayesh killed and 98 injured in Kirkuk. That compares with 4 killed and 20 wounded in Salahaddin and 15 killed and 26 wounded in Ninewa during that same period. In total 86 Kurdish fighters have lost their lives with 232 wounded across those four governorates over five weeks.

Peshmerga/Asayesh Casualties In Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, Salahaddin Since Insurgent Offensive
Weekly Totals
Jun 8-14
21 Wounded
1 Killed
1 Killed
21 Wounded
Jun 15-21
8 Killed
43 Wounded
16 Killed
41 Wounded
1 Killed
2 Killed
6 Wounded
27 Killed
90 Wounded
Jun 22-28
9 Killed
11 Wounded
11 Killed
20 Wounded
11 Killed
26 Wounded
1 Killed
14 Wounded
32 Killed
71 Wounded
Jun 29-30
2 Killed
5 Wounded
8 Wounded
2 Killed
13 Wounded
Jul 1-7
8 Killed
5 Wounded
4 Killed
5 Wounded
12 Killed
10 Wounded
Jul 8-14
7 Killed
24 Wounded
2 Killed
3 Wounded
3 Killed
12 Killed
27 Wounded
34 Killed
88 Wounded
33 Killed
98 Wounded
15 Killed
26 Wounded
4 Killed
20 Wounded
86 Killed
232 Wounded

The human costs are only part of the story, because there are financial ones as well. Before the start of the insurgent summer offensive Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cut off Kurdistan’s 17% share of the national budget starting in January 2014. This caused widespread problems as the KRG relies upon Baghdad for 95% of its own budget, and like the rest of the country the government is the largest employer. While the premier ended up making two partial payments since then, public employees and the peshmerga were going without pay and many development projects were stopped. This led to almost weekly protests for six months straight. Now the Kurds are spending more money on the disputed territories to keep their forces deployed and mobilized there. The attempt to sell oil via tankers has largely failed as only one sold its cargo, while the other three remain at sea. The regional government did get some loans as a result, but the situation has forced the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party to dip into their own coffers to pay for government operations. The security situation is therefore putting more strains upon the Kurds’ budget.

Many have talked about the acquisition of Kirkuk and other disputed territories as the last step towards Kurdish independence without examining the stress this is putting upon the regional government. Moving into these areas has not been free as there have been over 300 casualties and near constant fighting especially in Diyala and Kirkuk. The KRG has also been forced to spend more money at a time when it is short of cash. This doesn’t mean the Kurds aren’t moving towards independence, but some of the celebratory articles about it are a little premature. Kurdistan now has a long border with the Islamic State, which has proven it is no fan of the KRG, and is making the it pay for its newly acquired territory. The Kurds are also not financially independent at this time


AIN, "3 ISIL elements killed northeastern Baquba," 6/18/14
-"14 Peshmerga elements killed, injured northeastern Baquba," 6/15/14
- "Urgent……ISIL clash with Peshmerga in Dohouk," 6/11/14

Associated Press, "Iraq fights militants as foreigners feared seized," 6/18/14

Barzinji, Shwan, “KRG asks international companies for loans to make up for budget,” Bas News, 6/3/14

Bas News, "ISIS kidnap two Peshmerga officers near Mosul," 6/16/14

Beauchamp, Zac, “A guide to the bitter political fights driving the Iraq crisis,” Vox, 6/15/14

Buratha News, "Clashes between the Peshmerga and the Daash terrorists in Sinjar west of Nineveh and the Peshmerga able to defeat the terrorists," 6/11/14
- "Violent clashes between the Peshmerga and Daash terrorist in Jalawla," 6/13/14

Dolamari, Mewan, "KRG: So far six Peshmerga has been killed 30 more injured," Bas News, 6/15/14

Hadid, Diaa and Matti, Emad, “Kurds win land and oil in Iraq’s chaos but face new challenges,” Associated Press, 6/19/14

Harding, Luke, “Revisiting Kurdistan: ‘If there is a success story in Iraq, it’s here,’” Guardian, 7/16/14

Kirkuk Now, "Gunmen Attacked an Asaish Checkpoint," 6/13/14
- "ISIS Ask Residents to Nominate New Head," 6/11/14

KNN, "Kurdish Peshmarga Inflict Heavy Losses on ISIS Insurgents," 6/22/14

Al Mada, “Experts warn of economic paralysis as a result of the crisis in Kurdistan and Baghdad contend with: the Government of the Territory of alternative solutions,” 3/2/14
- "Mayor of Tuz confirms the death and injury of 21 elements of Peshmerga and Daash in clashes yesterday," 6/22/14

Al Masalah, "The death of a captain in the Kurdish peshmerga shot by a sniper from the Daash organization north of Mosul," 6/20/14

Muhammed, Hussein, van den Toorn, Christine, and Osgood, Patrick, "Clashes and tension along Kurdistan's new border," Iraq Oil Report, 6/26/14

Newton-Small, Jay, “The Only Winners in Iraq’s Chaos: the Kurds,” Time, 6/15/14

NINA, "7 Peshmerga fighters killed, /36/ others injured in Nineveh, Salahuddin and Diyala," 6/16/14
- "Six elements of Peshmerga and policemen wounded in confrontations with the ISIS west of Kirkuk," 6/11/14

Osgood, Patrick, Van Heuvelen, Ben, and Lando, Ben, “UPDATE: Kurdistan sidesteps Baghdad legal challenge to exports,” Iraq Oil Report, 6/28/14

Solomon, Erika, “Iraq’s Kurds look the biggest winners in militants’ push,” Financial Times, 6/16/14

1 comment:

jmeasor said...

A good point Joel, but do recognize that independence is being forced on the KRG by Western policies dictating that they deal with sectarian and prejudicial partners within the post-2003 Iraq.

The KRG leadership, while desirous of independence, is not unconstrained as the popular sentiment picked up on within those simplistic media accounts you rightly critique. It is, however, heavily invested in the economy south of the KRG for potential development. The economy outside the energy sector is all focussed in that direction and incapable of developing without access to the Iraqi market (at least for the foreseeable future).

The political economy of independence as well as the state institutions necessary to provide an internal balance capable of withstanding external attempts to pull Kurds apart are not yet solidified in spite of Herculean efforts by many leaders across the KRG.

The peshmerga and other KRG security forces are once again conducting heroic actions to protect Kurds as well as many others across the so-called 'disputed territories'. Not conquerors or occupiers they are the salvation of the many Iraqis that the IS would murder or enslave.

I appreciate your effort to correct the record on the post-Mosul efforts of the KRG. Perhaps an expanded focus on their efforts is warranted.

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