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‘Nation state is the core building block’

Nov 01,2017 - Last updated at Nov 01,2017

Catalan separatists should have been warned not to declare independence by what has happened to Iraqi Kurds since an overwhelming majority voted in favour of secession on September 25.

By voting for separation, the Kurds attempted to escape the reality of the times.

The nation state is the core building block of the 20th and 21st centuries and, even, of supranational entities like the European Union (EU).

If Catalonia were to succeed in seceding, there are an estimated 100 other restive minorities in EU member states that might try to follow suit.

Having rejected Catalonia’s bid for freedom, Spain has reimposed direct rule from Madrid, putting an end to the province’s autonomy, fired its ministers, dissolved the Catalan parliament and called for fresh elections in December in the expectation that a majority of Catalans, who oppose secession, will elect representatives who oppose independence.

Before making its unwise proclamation, the secessionist Catalan leadership was clearly not reading news reports from Iraq where the Kurds had enjoyed de facto autonomy since 1991 and virtual independence since the 2003 US occupation of Iraq.

Baghdad put an end to Kurdish self-rule by simply shutting off air traffic and closing crossing points between the landlocked Kurdish region and Iraq and persuading Turkey and Iran to do the same.

The autonomous Kurdish region had a president, prime minister, Cabinet, parliament, provincial and municipal councils and army. The Kurds had a flag, two airports, customs officials who levied tariffs on imported goods and immigration officers who issues Kurdish regional visas to visitors.

The Kurds made direct deals with foreign oil companies for exploration and development of their resources and exported oil via a pipeline to the Turkish port at Cayhan on the Mediterranean.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al Abadi is determined to put an end to this state of affairs.

While the Kurds may retain regional elected officials and a legislature, he has warned the peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, that they will have to be absorbed into Iraq’s security forces or transformed into a local police force paid by the regional authorities.

In an interview with Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on October 30, Abadi said: “All border crossings in and out of Iraq must be under the exclusive control of the federal state.”

Visas will be issued only by Baghdad and the Kurdish oil pipeline that runs through Turkey as well as land routes through that country will be controlled by Baghdad.

Abadi is backed by the US and Europe, as well as Turkey and Iran, which also have Kurds with secessionist agendas.

During the chaos produced by the Daesh conquest of Mosul in June 2014, the Kurds made the monumental mistake of occupying portions of four provinces adjacent to their recognised region.

The Kurds then included them in the independence referendum. The most contentious of these areas was the city of Kirkuk and neighbouring oil fields, which produce about half of Iraq’s oil exports.

Baghdad warned of “dire consequences” if Kirkuk was not returned to Iraq’s government control.

In mid-October, the Iraqi army and allied Shiite militias swept into Kirkuk and the other territory seized by the Kurds. The peshmerga did not put up serious resistance.

Yesterday, the prime mover of the independence declaration, regional President Masoud Barzani formally stepped down. He had long overstayed his term in office, which had expired in August 2013 and was extended for another two years.

Barzani’s rivals demanded his resignation and the Kurdish parliament stripped him of authorities which have been divided between the prime minister, parliament and judiciary.

Barzani miscalculated. He waited until peshmerga, Iraqi army, and allied Shiite militias defeated Daesh in northern Iraq. He thought Baghdad would be preoccupied with mopping up Daesh and wrongly believed the army to be weak.

However, the army has gained experience in the two-year drive to defeat Daesh.

Furthermore, the Shiite militias threatened they would, on their own, take on the Kurds if the army did not turf them out of Kirkuk and the other occupied areas.

Syrian Kurds who dominate the US-sponsored Syrian Democratic Forces militia (SDF) have also extended themselves far from territory where there is a substantial Kurdish population.

Thinking realistically, they should also reconsider their position in light of Barzani’s defeated bid for secession from Iraq.

Syrian Kurds say they do not want independence, but autonomy in a federal state structure.

The Kurds do not make up a majority in the areas of mixed population they have seized and are conducting ethnic cleansing by refusing to permit non-Kurdish townspeople and villagers to return home once fighting has ceased.

The Kurdish-appointed local councils have also introduced Kurdish in schools, prompting Arabs to protest.

Arab Christians want the area to return to Damascus’ rule. Majority Arab citizens of Raqqa, liberated from Daesh last month, do not wish to be dominated by the Kurds who intend to annex the city to their unilaterally proclaimed autonomous region.

The Syrian army is determined to put an end to Syrian Kurdish ambitions. Baghdad’s crackdown on the Iraqi Kurds is an example Damascus could emulate.

The army is expected to give priority to Al Omar Oil Feld, the country’s largest, seized from Daesh by the SDF recently, although it had been agreed that the army, which had been advancing on the field, would take control.

Ultimately, Syria’s army will have to move on Raqqa if the country is to regain its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Moscow and Tehran pledged to support Damascus in such a campaign, which could mean conflict with the US which has been using (or misusing) the Syrian Kurds to establish a foothold in northeast Syria.

The Syrian Kurds should benefit from the lesson the Iraqi Kurds have never learnt. 

Over the past century, they have been exploited by Russia, Iran, Britain, the US and Israel to gain political leverage in this region and have been left in the lurch when no longer useful.

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