Iraq: From War on Terror to Civil War?

Iraq: From War On Terror To Civil War?
The defeat of Daesh in Iraq has triggered intense talk about the future of the fractured nation, with serious concerns being expressed that it might descend into civil war if the Kurds declare independence later this year.

The autonomous Kurdish Regional Government of northern Iraq announced that it plans to hold an independence referendum in September, though its leaders have played coy about whether they’ll actually declare independence afterward if it passes or use the outcome as leverage in trying to strike a better deal with Baghdad over a federalized Iraq.

Female fighters from the Kurdish People Protection Unit (YPG) take a break on the front line in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh on September 4, 2015. - Sputnik International
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For all intents and purposes, Iraqi Kurdistan already functions as an independent country, counting among its numerous claims to sovereignty several energy deals conducted with outside powers such as Turkey and even recently Russia, and an impressive military force which was indispensable to winning the War on Terror. Moreover, the Kurds have been clamoring for their own separate state for over a century, so there’s a lot of historical inertia involved in their upcoming referendum.

That being the case, there’s also immense regional opposition to their plans coming from the four surrounding states which could be most adversely affected in the geopolitical sense. Turkey is leading the charge in opposing Kurdish statehood because it fears that this could embolden PKK militants in its southeast. Iran also fears an independent Kurdistan because it’s been fighting against its own Kurdish separatists for decades now, with violence flaring up again last summer and sporadically continuing into the present day.

Iraqi Kurdish youths wave a national flag as they stand above a giant flag of Kurdistan during celebrations of Flag Day on December 17, 2015 - Sputnik International
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Syria, of course, stands to lose if the Iraqi Kurds become independent because this could advance the unilaterally declared “federalization” cause of the YPG Kurdish militia in the country’s northeast. And finally, Baghdad is completely against Kurdish independence because of the unresolved status of oil-rich Kirkuk and other territories that the Peshmerga occupied following the national army’s retreat in the face of Daesh. Furthermore, the removal of the Kurdish factor from Iraq could disrupt the delicate balance between the rump Shiite-Sunni populations and more easily enable outside actors to promote sectarian conflict there.

The state of affairs is such that nobody really knows if the Kurds will indeed go forward with their independence aspirations or not following their upcoming historic referendum, nor is anyone certain how the neighboring powers will react to this development should it happen, but that’s precisely the reason why there’s so much fear about Iraq’s War on Terror turning into a civil or even regional war.

Andrew is joined by Engin Ozer, Turkish political analyst and expert based in Moscow. Also on the line with us is Joe Lauria, journalist who has worked nearly three decades in mainstream media. He is the author of the new book How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, with the foreword by Julian Assange.

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