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Is There Going to be an Iraqi-Kurdish War?

2017 October 13
by Ian Welsh

Peshmerga Flag

Iraqi Kurds voted in a referendum for independence from Iraq. Iraqi forces are now poised near Kirkuk, in position to attack, though the Iraqi PM claims they will not do so.

Kirkuk oil field was seized by the Kurds in 2014, and it produces more than half of Iraq’s oil.

Neither Iran nor Turkey want an independent Kurdish state. (This is a violent understatement, especially with regards to Turkey.)

Since Kurdistan has no sea border, Iraq and Turkey control its access to world markets, and the Iraqi government has been closing its exports, restricting its sales of oil.

And the Kurds have just moved another 6,000 Peshmerga to Kirkuk.

The Kurds were treated very badly under Saddam, and haven’t been happy with the Iraqi government since then either. They have also been firm American allies, and they have quite a bit of support in Congress and the US military as a result.

Is this going to blow?


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I don’t know, but I do know that Iraq is not going to let Kurdistan go independent and take over half the oil with it, and I know that Kurdistan would need that oil to be viable. Kurdistan also needs to be able to get that oil to market, and has few friends in the region.

I don’t see how Kurdish independence works, and I say that as someone who has sympathy for their aspirations. If they weren’t landlocked…but they are. To remedy the landlocked situation, they could take land from Syria, Turkey, or both, something that is unlikely at best, because Turkey just isn’t going to allow it and has a large enough military to have a veto.

Not sure where this goes, or where it ends, but the bottom line is Iraq won’t voluntarily let Kurdistan leave with all that oil, and Kurdistan won’t voluntarily leave without it, and if Kurdistan insists on leaving, the issue will probably have to be settled violently.

That doesn’t seem to be a war that ends well for the Kurds, but perhaps I’m missing something. (Lord help them if they are counting on serious American support to even the odds.)


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22 Responses
  1. Sid Finster permalink
    October 13, 2017

    I suspect that the Kurds hope that this time around their American friends will finally come through for them. Lord knows for decades, the Kurds have been loyal to the Americans and they have gotten precious little to show for it.

    To be fair, their American friends may be a bit more motivated now, since Erdogan’s Turkey appears to be going increasingly off message and their plan to carve up Syria or turn it into another Libya didn’t quite work out as planned, and besides, Israel is on side.

  2. Jejdiddj permalink
    October 13, 2017

    I would say become something lile belgium or canada but that probably wouldnt work well

  3. mago permalink
    October 13, 2017

    Sid said “Israel is on side.” Part of the problem.

  4. realitychecker permalink
    October 13, 2017

    Independent Kurds? No whey!

    We’ve been dancing this ultimate-disappointment dance with the Kurds for decades, yet they keep trying to have faith in us. Remarkable, really.

    That said, they do appear to be the toughest motherfuckers in their region.

  5. Memory permalink
    October 13, 2017

    All I can think is ohmyholyfuck. Yeats wept:

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned….

    (Serious American support? Bahahaha! No worries; Trump will move his slow thighs to suck up the oil whether or not a new nation-state is born.)

    What do you think Erdogan’s Deep State thinks of this potentially profitable (for them) development, Ian?

  6. Synoia permalink
    October 13, 2017

    Switzerland is also landlocked. So are some of the ‘stans in Asia.

    I remember my parents discussing a Kurdistan in the early ’50s, because they had lived in the ME, Israel, Lebanon and Syria, during and after WW II.

    The amazing thing about the post 9/11 discussions, is how many of them resonate from my childhood.

    I’d also point to the UN Charter, and the rights therein about many people’s Right to Self-Determination. Those articles we used to dismantle the European Empires, but they seem equally relevant to today’s issues, Brexit, Catalonia, the Basque Region, Kurdistan and the the Middle East.

  7. different clue permalink
    October 13, 2017

    @Synoia,

    You are discussing thoughts about “the right thing to do.” Ian Welsh is offering assessments of ” the likely thing to happen.”

    Which do you think is more likely to happen . . . the “right” thing ? Or the “likely” thing?

  8. Bill Hicks permalink
    October 13, 2017

    “They have also been firm American allies, and have quite a bit of support in Congress and the US military as a result.”

    This is why I don’t really care. I just cannot bring myself to support those who side with U.S. imperialists.

  9. Tom permalink
    October 14, 2017

    Kirkuk is a historical Shia Turkmen City, not a Kurdish City and had the Kurds not tried to take it with their Referendum, the Iraqi Government would have let the Referendum slide.

    By claiming it, the Kurds posed a direct threat to the Iraqi Government whose Iranian Militias captured the most land and took out the most IS forces during the fighting, including seizing their largest strongholds which the Kurds proved incapable of seizing.

    The Kurds are an overrated force, always were. If the PMU receive orders from Iran to take Kirkuk, it will be taken followed by the seizure of the KRG. Iran had had to accept partitioning of Syria, its not going to accept it in Iraq and on this, Erdogan agrees as Abadi isn’t cartoonishly evil like Assad.

  10. The Stepjhen Miller Band permalink
    October 14, 2017

    Hell, why not? Might as well be. What’s another war? I can’t wait for India-Pakistan. That will be a doozy and an American hit on North Korea could be the butterfly that sets it in motion. Bye bye global warning and hello nuclear winter climate change.

  11. Jeff Wegerson permalink
    October 14, 2017

    Kurdistan happens when the oil age is over and oil no longer drives politics. And that is coming sooner rather than later. Unfortunately Kurdistan is too high for them to get a seaport via climate change.

  12. Behrooz Shojai permalink
    October 14, 2017

    @Tom

    Kirkuk historical Turkmen city????

    A new universal gazetteer, J. Morse, R. Morse, New-Haven (1821:368)
    Kerkook, t. A Turkey, the largest in Lower Kurdistan. Pop. About 13.000. […]

    Compendio di geografia moderna ad uso della gioventù, G. S. Reitmeir, Napoli
    (1821:234)
    3. Kurdistan, or the land of the Kurds. […] The people who live there are
    nomadic shepherds, are subject to an Emir, which depends on the pacha, whose
    residence is Kerkouk, the chief town.

    Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, ancient Babylonia, &c. &c …, Vol II, R. K. Porter,
    London (1822:439)
    Kirkook is regarded as one of the most considerable places in Lower Courdistan; which,
    extending from the north-western frontiers of Khuzistan, to the high mountainous passes of
    Courdistan (the ancient Carduchia) comprehends almost the whole of Assyria Proper.
    Allgemeines repertorium der literatur, vol III, C. D. Beck, Leipzig (1822:106))
    Kirkuk in Lower Kurdistan (Demetrias by Strabo, Corcura by Ptolemy), naphtha springs
    burning on hills.

    The Oriental magazine, and Calcutta review, Vol I, W. Thacker, Calcutta (1823:584)
    The Kirkook naphtha is principally consumed by the markets in the south-west of Curdistan
    […]

    Nouveau Dictionnaire Géographique Universel, J. MacCarthy, Paris (1824:662)
    Kerkout, a town in lower-Kourdistan (Asian Turkey), situated on an elevated landscape.
    Poplulation 18.000. Latitude north 43.42.1, east 33.9.

    Universal geography: or A description of all parts of the world, Vol I, C. Malte-Brun,
    Philadelphia (1827: 340)
    Koordistan, or the country of the Kurds, […] The Largest principality of this country is Kara
    Djiolan, with a capital town of the same name. […] The two small pashâlics of Sherzour and
    Kerkouk, governed by mousselims or superindendants, appear to be formed by forcible
    encroachments on the principality of Kara-Djiolan.

    The geography system of Herodotus examined and explained, by a comparison, Vol I, J.
    Rennell, London (1830:515)
    The name Kir is traceable at present in that country. The loftiest ridge of the Kurdistan
    mountains (Carduchian) is named Kiarè, according to M. Otter. The province adjacent is
    Hakiari (Niebuhr); the Kiouran tribe of the Kourds inhabits eastern part; Kerkook, a larg town
    and other places of less consequence, have the prefixture Ker or Kir to them. It is possible that
    the name of the Carduchian people may have had the same rout.

    The Edinburgh encyclopaedia, Vol VII, D Brewster, Edinburgh (1830:510)
    Curdistan – […] In Curdistan there are several considerable towns and hamlets. The largest of
    the towns of Lower Curdistan is Kerkook. […]

    A new universal gazetteer, containing a description of the principal nations, J Marshall,
    New York (1832:418)
    Kerkuk, a town of Curdistan, the capital of a government and residence of a pacha. […]

    Traité Classique de Géographie contenant la Géographie Naturelle et la Géographie
    Politique, Vol II, C. L. Grandperret, Paris (1834:309)
    2. Kurdistan comprises the following pashalics:
    Van – Van, Khochab, Bayazid, Djoulamerk
    Kars – Kars, Ani, Ardanoudgi
    Chehrzour – Kerkouk, Chehrzour, Baïan

    Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Vol III, L
    Chancellor, J. Russell, W. Tooke; London (1835:268)
    […] Sulimanieh, Kerkook and Erbil are the principal towns of Turkish Koordistan :
    Sulimanieh is the capital of a pashalic of the same name ; the territories of which are more
    extensive than those of any other chief in the part of the country, […]

    There are more.. .but this should suffice!

  13. V. Arnold permalink
    October 14, 2017

    Behrooz Shojai
    October 14, 2017

    Thank you for your labors, to set the record straight.

  14. markfromireland permalink
    October 14, 2017

    @ Jeff Wegerson October 14, 2017

    Not necessarily, take a look at a map and note how many rivers that flow through Iran, Syria, Turkey, have their headwaters in what the Kurds claim as “Kurdistan”. Then ask yourself how likely it is that Iran, Syria, Turkey, will cede control of those headwaters to what they would see as a hostile power.

    The already febrile Middle East will become a far more dangerous and violent place once the water wars start.

    (The Middle East is far the only area where declining water resources will be a source of contention the desertifcation of large swathes of China, especially the North China Plain, coupled with riparian failure and water tables dropping by approximately one meter annually signals the emergence of another political hotspot. Where will all those hungry and thirsty Chinese go? Then there’s the Brahmaputra situation … I could go on but I’m sure you get the point.)

  15. Tom permalink
    October 14, 2017

    @ Behrooz Shojai

    http://www.let.uu.nl/~martin.vanbruinessen/personal/publications/Iraq_paper_ISS.htm#_ftnref30

    Matthew Gordon, The Breaking of a Thousand Swords: A History of the Turkish Military of Samarra, A.H. 200-275/815-889 C.E., SUNY Press, 2001, p.1

    The Turkmens predate the Kurdish Settlers by several centuries and built the city.

    Its a Turkmen City period.

    That said, fighting has begun in Tuz Khurmato.

  16. ejf permalink
    October 14, 2017

    have I looked at a map correctly? Iran is to the east with plenty of Kurds on the border. Wouldn’t the Iranians find it more then beneficial to open pipelines and roads that lead due north to the lesser-mention ‘Stans and then into Russia?
    It’d keep the pressure high. Of course where would the imperial protection come from then, the USA?

  17. October 14, 2017

    No Stephen, the over-saturation of carbon dioxides in the atmosphere is past the point of a nuclear winter counter-effect. It would at best provide an illusion of cooling, the feedback mechanisms in place are exponential and our atmosphere will continue to deteriorate, to warm, even in the face of what was once thought an ice age inducing event.

    Of course there will be war: Israel.

  18. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    October 14, 2017

    I disagree, Ten Bears. A nuclear winter would alter so many variables scientists have not yet even determined and isolated that the ramifications of a nuclear winter are endless. It couldn’t be modeled just as climate and the weather cannot be effectively modeled. To even attempt to model such complexity with inadequate tools is a farce.

    Nuclear winter means no, or minimal, sunlight and that means cold, cold, cold and famine and suffering and death on a horrendous scale. All the ice created from the nuclear winter will help sequester a significant amount of the excess carbon dioxide and additional carbon dioxide produced by industrialization will diminish significantly as the human race dies off in a decade or less and the rich ascend from their palatial bunkers.

  19. October 14, 2017

    [A]scend from their palatial bunkers to an uninhabitable atmosphere.

    Even if humans were to disappear today, and everything we have been doing stops, immediately, it would at best provide an illusion of cooling. The feedback mechanisms in place are exponential and the atmosphere will continue to deteriorate, to warm, even in the face of what was once thought an ice age inducing event. What we are doing, what we have done, in just five hundred years is on parr with a volcano burning for a million years through a block of coal the size of Kansas. It has momentum, it’s not going to just stop, for anything. All available carbon sinks are over-saturated, there’s nothing left to absorb the carbon, and nothing will absorb the release of the methane, an exponentially far more potent greenhouse gas, our warming atmosphere has triggered across the Arctic tundra and surrounding seabeds. We may have turned our atmosphere into something akin to Venus. You are welcome to disagree, but you are mistaken.

    The only good that can be said of a nuclear winter is it’ll kill us all off quicker than suffocatingin our own flatulence.

  20. mago permalink
    October 14, 2017

    markfromireland: Yes. This receives too little notice. It’s all about the water.

  21. Chiron permalink
    October 15, 2017

    Kurdistan is a Zionist project, is the second Israel for the Neocon Empire.

  22. Sid Finster permalink
    October 16, 2017

    @ Mago “Israel is on side” is not part of the problem, it *is* the problem.

    You think Trump or his merry neocon buddies (or W or Obama) would care about Kurds, if Israel weren’t in the neighborhood and seeking to destabilize Syria, Turkey and Iraq?

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