The tragedy of the Kurds both of Syria and Iraq is that they have gone from being among the most courageous fighters in the war against Daesh to being the most duplicitous, exploiting the turmoil that has engulfed both countries to reach for independent statehood in clear breach and violation of the national sovereignty of both. In so doing they are on course to guaranteeing themselves a cold place not just in the hearts of Syrians and Iraqis but even more significantly a cold place in history.
In the case of the Kurds of Iraq, they have enjoyed de facto autonomous status since the US and its UK ally smashed Iraq to pieces in the course of the 2003 war and invasion. It was followed by an occupation which only succeeded in precipitating a brutal and bloody sectarian civil war out of which emerged AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq), the forerunner of Daesh. Throughout, Masoud Barzani has run his Kurdistan Regional Government out of the city of Erbil with the tacit support of the West — tacit support evidenced in the ubiquitous presence of Western oil companies and corporations in the city?
For the past few years, since Daesh took Mosul in 2014, the KRG has reaped the rewards of selling crude oil directly onto the world market via Turkey at the expense of the central government in Baghdad, exploiting the country's oilfields in and around Kirkuk. It is a state of affairs which no sovereign state or government could possibly tolerate for a week much less the years over which the Iraqi government has been forced to. The fact it has was due to the turmoil and chaos that ensued with the invasion of Daesh, leaving Baghdad unable to impose its writ across the entire country. It is only recently, in the wake of the defeat of Daesh in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq, and with the Iraqi Kurds moving to hold a referendum on their independence without the sanction of the government in Baghdad, that matters have come to their inevitable head.
The move by Iraqi military forces against the Kurds in Kirkuk confirms also that the conflict there has entered its post-Daesh stage, with the emphasis switching from combating terrorism to restoring the country's borders.
As with most crises pertaining to the region, Washington's position is critical. In this regard, if the statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in response to the recent Kurdish referendum and unilateral declaration of independence which followed is anything to go by, the Kurds of Iraq have been mistaken and overplayed their hand.
Indeed there is little doubt that Tillerson's statement would have been treated in Baghdad as a green light when it came to mounting the military operation it just has to impose its writ in Kirkuk and elsewhere in northern Iraq.
This being said, Washington has found itself in the very awkward position of having to choose between an Iraqi state whose military forces it has expended a lot of time and money training and arming since the toppling of Saddam in 2003, and a Kurdish Peshmerga militia it has likewise been supporting, funding and arming.
The situation of the Kurds in Syria is obviously different as far as Washington is concerned, despite the fact that the Syrian government has precisely the same sovereign right as its Iraqi counterpart to restore its borders as soon as it is able to do so. Unlike Iraq, the US has been operating militarily in Syria with neither the permission nor cooperation of the government in Damascus, thus making its presence in the country illegal under international law — regardless of Washington's intellectual and legal gymnastics to the contrary.
Syria's Kurds, fighting under the aegis of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with US logistical, air and operational support on the ground, have spearheaded the ongoing operation to crush Daesh in and around the city of Raqqa in the east of the country. Meanwhile, the Syrian Army and its allies, including Russia, have recently retaken the other eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor from Daesh in recent weeks, and are currently engaged in operations to mop up Daesh remnants from the wider province and villages.
At the annual Aspen Security Conference in the US in July, when asked by a reporter if US forces would remain in Syria after Daesh has been defeated, Special Operations Command chief Army General, Raymond Thomas replied, "We're a bad day away from the Russians saying, 'Why are you still in Syria?' "
This day is fast approaching, along with the day when the Kurds of Syria find themselves forced to accept that Syria's national borders are non-negotiable and inviolable.
Upon their willingness to accept this fact hinges whether their legacy remains one of courage or becomes one of treachery.
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