How Barzani Destroyed His Kurdistan
By LTC Sargis Sangari and Steven Weingartner
As of this morning (16 OCT 2017) Kurdish aspirations for statehood in northern Iraq are dead. And KRG president Masoud Barzani is to blame.
Barzani’s refusal to back down on the issue of Kurdish statehood spurred the Government of Iraq (GOI) to take action. Ignoring warnings from Iraqi leaders and the global community, Barzani organized the referendum that saw the Kurds of the KRG voting overwhelming for independence from Iraq, forcing Baghdad’s hand.
Accordingly, on the night of 15-16 OCT 2017, Iraqi Army forces moved into Kirkuk and seized the airport and other GOI facilities in the area. Kurdish Peshmerga units and civilians called upon to defend the city by the Kurdish governor of Kirkuck, Najem Al-Deen, battled with Iraqi forces but were quickly overcome and forced to withdraw from the city. The fighting reportedly resulted in casualties on both sides, although the precise extent of the losses is not known.
Just after the start of the fighting, Najem Al-Deem fled to Erbil, where he is, for the time being, secure from arrest by the GOI. While he made good his escape, Iraqis fought and killed each other in Kirkuk because of Barzanis decision to defend the city.
Shortly before the start of Iraqi Army operations, Iraqi courts had ordered Al-Deen’s removal and replacement by Vice Governor Rakan Jaburi, an Arab Sunni. Jaburi’s appointment is temporary, lasting only as long as it takes for the GOI to name a new governor. The yet-to-be-selected governor will be a Kurd and PUK member.
It should be noted in this regard that the Iraqi Constitution’s Article 140 stipulates that both Kirkuk, as well as the disputed areas to include Assyria Nineveh Plain (ANP) and the boarder district of Khanaqeen in Nineveh Province, will be jointly administered by the Iraqi federal government and the KRG.
Barzani, like Al-Deen, has is now entrenched himself in Erbil. What the future holds for him can only be guessed at, but it would be premature, and probably wrong, to think that he is a spent force in Iraqi politics. Barzani is a political survivor and, as recent events have demonstrated, he will betray even his own son to maintain his political viability and protect his legacy as a Kurdish leader. As the hours for the start of the Iraq Army’s assault on Kirkuk counted down, Barzani replaced his son, General Serwan Barzani, with KRG vice president and PUK party member Kosrat Rasuel as commander of the combined Peshmerga forces.
Barzani made this move in part because he knew that the Peshmerga forces could not hold Kirkuk and did not want his PUK/PDK party to be blamed for losing the city. As well, he must have figured that placing a PUK party member in charge of the defense would ensure that PUK Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk would stand and fight even though their defeat was a virtual certainty.
But his principal reason for appointing Korast Rasuel over his son is that he had no confidence in Serwen’s ability to effectively direct Peshmerga in combat operations against the more capable and better-equipped Iraqi Army.
According to recent atmospherics out of Iraq, the Kurdish leadership in Erbil is blame the PUK for the loss of Kirkuk – just as Barzani thought they would.
The reality of the battle for Kirkuk is that the PUK members with close ties to Iran never wanted this fight; that they are, in fact, favorably disposed to the GOI, which is aligned closely with Iran. Three days before the Iraqi Army entered Kirkuk, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Major General Qasem Soleimani, visited the tomb of Jalal Talabani’s in Sulaymaniyah to pay his respects to the former Iraqi president. (Talabani, a Kurd, was Iraq’s first non-Arab president, serving from 2005 to 2014; he also served as president of the Governing Council of Iraq).
Soleimani and his family members thus signaled the GOI that Iran would undertake to enforce a deal struck between the Iraqi Minister of Interior Quasim Al-Araji and Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk to avoid bloodshed and peaceably return all facilities in Kirkuk to the GOI.
The GOI’s ultimate goal, and the unstated military/political objective of the Iraqi Army, is to force the Kurds back behind their former border: the so-called “Blue Line,” established in 1991 and maintained through 2003, which ran south of Erbil from to Koshtabah and from Dohuk to the Dumez area, and from Sulaymaniyah to just north of the Cham Chamal.
With KRG now, or soon to be, a thing of the past, Iraqi president Haider Al-Abadi can now focus on restoring GOI authority in the south, in Amarah and Basra, where Shia tribal leaders have seized control of the region’s oilfields through corrupt networks and have otherwise resisted any attempts by the Iraqi Army to bring them to heel.
As we noted in our preceding post, the situation in Iraq is extremely fluid. By the time you read this, our account may have been overtaken by events. NEC-SE will in any case keep you informed of developments as, or soon after, they unfold. Keep checking back with us.
As the Iraqi Army moves forward, Kurds and other minorities in Kirkuk and the ANP have expressed fear that Turkmen paramilitaries and Iranian-aligned Hashd Al Shabi units will take bloody vengeance on them and anyone else whom supported or colluded with the KRG. The GOI is aware of the situation but, as yet, has done nothing to ease these fears.