News Middle East

Thursday 18 September 2014

When the chaos passes Kurds will be the big winners

David Blair

Published 19/06/2014 | 02:30

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Kurdish soliders aim their weapons towards positions held by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant near Jalula, Iraq
Kurdish soliders aim their weapons towards positions held by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant near Jalula, Iraq
Smoke pours from what is said to be Iraq’s largest oil refinery in Baiji.

THE KURDS of northern Iraq are watching the collapse of Baghdad's control over this area of the country with "barely concealed glee".

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The rout of the Iraqi army has allowed Kurdish 'Peshmerga' fighters to take control of oil-rich Kirkuk city, which they claim as their future capital, and various contested areas.

The sudden advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qa'ida affiliate, has created opportunity for the Kurds.

There is an irony here. Remember that just over 20 years ago, the Iraqi army was terrorising the Kurds and crushing their uprisings in 1988 and 1991.

Saddam Hussein mounted the 'Anfal' campaign, a genocidal onslaught designed to turn Kurdish northern Iraq into scorched earth, with the help of poison gas. Now, the Iraqi army is in retreat and the Kurds can take pretty much whatever territory they want.

What we are witnessing is the de facto birth of an independent Kurdish state.

It will be a bloody and perhaps protracted struggle, but ISIS will almost certainly be rolled back from Baghdad and eventually defeated in northern Iraq.

Now that the Kurds have Kirkuk, however, will they ever give it up? It's doubtful. Now that they have been able to grab other contested territories, including those holding valuable oilfields, they will do their utmost to keep them. Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, is in no position to insist on anything.

For decades, the Kurds had to accept whatever mercies might be offered by all-powerful rulers in Baghdad – and in Saddam's time, there were no mercies and only thunderbolts. Now, they are strong enough to carve out their own state within northern Iraq, taking the oil assets and cities that will make it viable. When this crisis finally passes, it looks as if the Kurds of Iraq will be the big winners.

Meanwhile, Turkey extended a warning to its citizens in Iraq to leave all but the Kurdish-run north, citing a potential battle for Baghdad and saying "negative propaganda" was being spread against it in the Shi'ite-dominated south.

The foreign ministry urged Turks to leave eight more provinces south of Baghdad, meaning its advisory now covers all of the country apart from the autonomous, relatively peaceful Kurdish region partly bordering Turkey.

"Iraq's security crisis continues to deepen and has reached a critical point in which civilians are being targeted," the ministry said in a statement.

It said Iraqi Shi'ite militias were being deployed to Baghdad to defend against attacks by Sunni Islamist insurgents who overran much of northern Iraq last week.

The statement added "false accusations" were being made against Turkey and other countries. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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