Barzani’s foreign policy risks Kurdistan’s long term future

  • - By B Mohammed
  • 03/02/2013 00:00:00

Kurdistan region president, Massoud Barzani’s, burgeoning ties with the Turkish republic risk isolating the Kurdistan region of Iraq, creating a dependent region and ultimately risks the region’s future. Barzani has recently been on a diplomatic and political offensive designed to align the KRG with Turkey. This has included siding with the Turkish republic against Maliki’s central Iraqi government, aligning the KRG against the PKK affiliated groups in the Syrian uprising and further integrating the KRG economy with that of Turkey through massive Turkish investment and a planned oil pipeline to transport Kurdish oil via Turkey to the international market.

The danger here is that Barzani may be repeating his father’s mistakes, Mullah Mustafa. In the early 1970’s Mullah Mustafa closely allied himself with the then Shah of Iran, receiving financial and military support from the Iranians. With the Support of the Iranians he was able to initially step up his war with the Iraqi government. However the Algiers accord of 1975, signed by Saddam Hussein and the Iranian King effectively ended all Iranian support of Barzani. The dependency of Barzani on the Iranians was so complete that shortly after the Algiers agreement was signed his movement in Iraq completely collapsed, leading to Mullah Mustafa’s exile. This week’s meeting between Massoud Barzani and Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, underlines an increasingly close relationship, a relationship which if allowed to lead to economic or political Kurdish dependency on Turkey risks creating an opportunity for Turkey to repeat the Algiers accord and eventually upend the Kurdish region in Iraq.

This risk is accentuated by the fact that Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan region do not share common long term interests in the region. Turkey is an integral member of the so called ‘Sunni axis’ involving Turkey, the Jordanians, Saudi Arabia and the Sunnites of western Iraq and Syria. This grouping has the tacit backing of the United States, although Obama’s recalcitrance in further Middle Eastern entanglement has limited American influence in the region.

In opposition to this Sunni axis is the so called ‘Shia crescent’ an alignment of powers which begins in Iran, crosses into the Shia dominated Iraqi central government and ranges through the Alawite Syrian government of Assad into Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The Sunni Axis, which Barzani is drawing the KRG into, have differing and conflicting strategic interests from those of the KRG. The civil war in Syria and the turmoil in Iraq highlight these conflicting interests. In the Syrian theatre, Turkey was initially a driving force behind the anti-governmental uprising, hosting the Syrian opposition, cancelling trade agreements with Syria and taking a leading role in isolating Assad diplomatically.

The emergence of the PYD, which is close to the PKK, has cooled Turkish involvement in Syria due to Turkish fears of a PKK affiliated Kurdish power in Syria’s Kurdish region which would embolden Turkeys own restive Kurdish population and provide the PKK with a new base in addition to Qandil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkish interests in Syria would be served by the creation of a strong, centralised moderate Sunni government which would curtail Kurdish separatism and break the so called Shia crescent thereby deprive the Iranians of the ability to project power into the Levant. In contrast Kurdish interests in Syria would be served by the emergence of a weak fragmented if not fractured Syria which would allow for Kurdish autonomy in the country and create a friendly or at the least benign power on the KRG’s western border. This would break Iraqi Kurdistan’s encirclement by hostile powers fearful of Kurdish autonomy lest it empower their own Kurds.

In Iraq, again Turkey and the KRG’s interests clash. Turkey has pursued a policy of supporting Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who are seen as natural allies. This has led to several public rows between Erdogan and Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki. The current crisis in Iraq, culminating in Shia dominated Iraqi government forces firing on Sunni protestors highlight Iraq’s fragmentation.

It is becoming increasingly likely that the Sunnis in Iraq will form a federal region. This federal region will be resource poor and financially dependent on the Shia dominated central government. The long term interests of the ‘Sunni axis’ and Turkey will be served by strengthen this government and a logical way of pursuing this would be to aim for the incorporation of oil rich Kirkuk into this Sunni region. Again this would put the Sunni axis and the KRG into direct conflict as a chief aim of the Iraqi Kurds must be the incorporation of Kirkuk into the KRG, which would give the KRG the economic power to strive for true independence in the future.

As can be seen Barzani’s current diplomatic initiative to bind the KRG to Turkey risks drawing the KRG into a alliance which has conflicting strategic aims and places the KRG at the mercy of Turkey. Which could use its economic strangle hold over Iraqi Kurdistan to coerce the KRG into following strategy which is counterproductive to Kurdish goals and ultimately put the region’s future at risk

  • - By B Mohammed
  • 03/02/2013 00:00:00