Category Archives: Kurds

The rout of Barzani’s KDP continues as PMM-backed Yazidi group retakes Sinjar

As Masoud Barzani’s independence gambit lies in tatters, and the Peshmerga continue their retreat, the Iraqi Yazidi group Lalesh, affiliated with Iraq’s Iran-backed PMM (Al-Hashd al-Shaabi), takes over the Yazidi capital in Northern Iraq, Sinjar.

The Iraqi federal government’s Joint Operations Command said that Iraqi forces have been redeployed, aside from Sinjar and other areas in the Nineveh plains, across Khanaqin and Jalawla in Diyala province, as well as Makhmur, Bashiqa, and the Mosul dam, Sinjar.

Calls for Barzani’s resignation are coming in now from all quarters of the Kurdish community.

The third act of the Iraqi Saga: Iraq coming together under Abadi

The final act of the Iraqi gambit launched  by G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” is underway, and may have a surprising outcome. After the 2003 US invasion and subsequent withdrawal, the US proceeded to gradually reinstate itself in Northern Iraq (and Syria) through it alliance with the Kurds, in what is ostensibly a campaign against DAESH/ISIS, the spread of which, however, there is now ample documentation to prove, the US had earlier helped to promote as part of a strategy to destabilise and remove the Assad régime in Damascus, and sever the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

The US had also helped the Iraqi army reorganise after its defeat in Mosul 2014, given that Daesh/ISIS was threatening the whole of Iraq at the time, and the Iraqi army would be necessary boots on the ground for a difficult campaign against a widely spread opponent. Ultimately, it was the reorganised Iraqi army, with a few US advisers, but nevertheless under Haidar el-Abadi’s leadership, that cut its teeth, and lost much blood, in retaking Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi was, until now, veering towards an alliance with the US against the rigidly pro-Iranian sections (e.g. Nouri al-Maliki) of the Iraqi political scene.

All this was before KRG referendum on independence and Trump’s speech decertifying the  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action  (JCPOA) P5+1+EU Iran Nuclear Deal, and his thinly veiled threats against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Together these spelled a potential reigniting of US ambitions to sever the bridge now between Iran and Syria (Assad having survived) with a Kurdish entity under its aegis. Furthermore, with a Kurdish population in Iran, a KRG-US alliance could potentially provide the US with direct and effective lever to undermine the Iranian régime. It was hardly likely that Iran, with its deep involvement in Iraq, and its need to keep the direct link with Syria would stand idly by and allow that situation to be realised.

Abadi’s reliance on the US to bolster his own position will now melt away, as he will build on his reputation as the conqueror of Mosul. This requires his continued campaigning to keep control over the Iraqi army forces, which have now become the foundation of his rule. The Iraqi PMM militia (el-Hashd el-Shaabi) represents a potential competitor, supported directly by Iran’s IRGC, that he needs to keep on a tight leash in all future conflict. This he can only do by keeping it marginalised as a force secondary to his own.  Trump’s speech will have pushed the IRGC to increase its investment in the PMM hugely to ensure the KRG/Peshmerga’s defeat (besides the effect it is having in raising the IRGC’s stock within Iran) . The US will continue to supply Abadi, irrespective of what he does, because he is their only potentially ally in Baghdad, while Abadi himself will focus on his race against these various mounting pressures.

The KRG’s independence referendum presented a opportunity that answered Abadi’s political needs. The US can now only sit and watch as tensions mount between two of its allies. Trump’s speech made this outcome inevitable. Abadi is on the road to turning himself into a indispensable political force in Iraq as he commits to marginalising the KRG by retaking the Kirkuk oil fields and thus the major source of its revenue. This, it would appear, he has begun to do as the Peshmerga retreat from Kirkuk. The revenue itself is of little import to a government in Baghdad that produces ten times as much oil in its southern provinces. The whole point is to render the KRG’s independence gambit cashless.

Given that the Peshmerga forces that abandoned their positions in Kirkuk belong to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) faction, it would appear that a deal has been struck between Baghdad and the PUK to unseat Barzani and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Irbil. Bafel Talabani, the son of PUK leader, the late Jalal Talabani, had opposed the referendum and had warned the Kurds were heading for disaster. Two large oil fields a bit further west of Kirkuk, Bai Hassan and Avana Dome, are as of writing, still under Kurdish management although the Peshmerga have now left. Temporary shutdown of oil production at the two field appears to have been reversed as the Iraqi government threatened to remove the management.

Kirkuk has been a bone of contention between Baghdad and the KDP Irbil since the very beginning of the functioning of the new Iraqi constitution. The Kurds had benefitted from US patronage ever since Bill Clinton’s no-fly zone. When the new constitution was written, the KRG was given special autonomy, but without Kirkuk which is only one-third Kurdish in demographic terms. However, it was KDP policy to change that situation by bussing Kurdish populations into Kirkuk, changing, in a phase made famous by the Israelis, “facts on the ground”. This led to bad relations with the Federal Government in Baghdad, whose leaders eventually stopped paying the KRG bureaucracy’s salaries. The referendum was only to go ahead because of the personal intervention of Kirkuk’s hawkish Kurdish governor, Najmeddin Karim. Now he has been stripped of all his powers.

What is helping Abadi to reach his goal is the fact that the US has managed to so undermine its relationship with Turkey, with its Kurdish alliances, that the Turks are now opening new direct border connections with Iraq that bypass its erstwhile KRG. This has led to the complete regional isolation of the KRG, given that Iran is also now effectively closing its own border points with the Kurdish enclave at Haji Omaran, Parwezkhan and Bashmaq. Thus under total siege, KRG’s president Masoud Barzani’s position is unenviable. Time and history is on Abadi’s side, and potentially a military triumph in Kirkuk will mean the survival of Iraq as a nation and its astonishing retreat from the brink of partition.

This will also give hope to Sunnis in Iraq, as a post-campaign consolidation of Abadi’s power vis-à-vis Iranian elements in Iraq, will require that he brings Sunnis under his political tent. This outcome would need to involve a rebalancing of the post-war sectarian régime in Baghdad with its lack of governing capability, but is likely to occur as a result of the new tripartite interaction between Turkey, Iran and Iraq at multiple economic, political and security levels and the need to satisfy the broad range of interests all this entails.

What is now abundantly clear is that the G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” has failed, and since the beginning of the Astana process, regional powers are consolidating their hold on the region’s security, and sidelining the US. It is remarkable that, unlike Syria, which is now merely a de juro entity, Iraq looks like it will regain its sovereignty. The defeat of the KDP, will bring the KRG back as a player within the Baghdad political scene, while the clear need to include Sunnis in the process will likely be answered by Abadi, for his own political reasons, quite besides it being part of a regional settlement. It all may collapse again, but this is unlikely.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s various attacks on the Federal government over the past two years, has made it clear that there is a strong current in Shia politics in favour of an Iraqi nationalist stance, independent of Iran which Abadi can rely on, and which he can now invest in virtue of his new stature since in success in Mosul, and in Kirkuk (although this last success has something also to do with negotiations between the PUK/Talabani clan and the IRGC’s Qasim Suleimani that took place in Suleimaniya during the KRG’s referendum). A democratic federated Iraq may slowly be emerging, and the era of ethno-nationalisms fading.



A Tale of Two Independence Referenda

Catalonia and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) are instances of the central government behaving badly in Spain’s case and the regional entity behaving badly in the other. The fallout in the case of Spain will be ongoing instability, which will have a Europe-wide impact, and in the case of the KRG, contrary to all prognostications, will have a stabilising effect on the Middle East, as Barzani is forced to climb down from the tree he is sitting on.

Spain felt some of the worst effects of the financial crash in Europe and really hasn’t recovered since, except as far as the country’s manipulated national accounts are concerned. Youth unemployment officially at 39%, unofficially much higher, is foreshadowing a lost generation. The effects of all this on Catalan national feeling in the face of an unpopular government of austerity that keeps coming back into power in Madrid, cast the die.

Moreover, this north-eastern region of Spain was granted autonomy under the 1978 constitution. However, a fraught relationship between the political classes in Madrid and Barcelona began in 2010 when extra powers granted to Catalonia in 2006 were unilaterally rescinded by Spain’s Constitutional Court. An unofficial vote on independence in November 2014 showed 80% support for secession, after which the Catalan Regional Government (CRG) decided to launch the current referendum (which seems to have achieved a 90% yes vote of 2.2m people, on a 42% turnout).

Unlike the KRG, the CRG has the administrative wherewithal to make success of independence, and the democratic structures to make independence about all the residents of the region. The reaction of the central government in Madrid will cost it dear in terms of credibility. Without Catalonia, Spain as an entity may shrink, but as a geographical entity, Catalonia isn’t going anywhere, and there is no reason for either economy to suffer anymore than they have already. In fact, shaking moribund Spanish political structures is what is needed for the future.

International opinion has swung the way of Catalonia even as Madrid pummels its people into submission. Nevertheless, the EU has determined their referendum to be illegal, which now presumably makes a mockery of its decision to allow Kosovo to separate from Serbia and continue life as a failed state. The Spanish King read out the script handed to him by the Madrid government, which will reinforce Catalan resistance. The strange thing is that although a part of the Catalan population is opposed to leaving Spain, it is still wholly united with the nationalists when it comes to maximum devolution. Perhaps that is message that needs to be understood.

Barzani’s KRG on the other hand, where the independence referendum passed with over 90% of the vote, is an entity without democratic structures. It is run by the Barzani clan (politically embodied in the Kurdish Democratic Party -KDP) that decided on the referendum precisely because of the pressure it was under from rival groups (the Talabani clan represented by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Gorran movement). None of these parties meet in a parliamentary setting: their role is purely and simply to carve out and rule different pieces of Northern Iraq.

Without the support of Turkey, the KRG wouldn’t have survived its problems with a dysfunctional Iraqi government in Baghdad over the last few years. It doesn’t have the wherewithal to make independence a reality, essentially launching both the Kurdish and non-Kurdish populations of the area into the unknown. Arab and Turkmen residents in the area will fear for their lives, while even Kurds are unlikely to benefit from a system that is socially just. But Barzani is under fire now from his own followers for a gross political miscalculation, and his future is in doubt.

Ironically, however, Barzani’s rash move seems to have strengthened the hand of the Astana trio (Russia-Turkey-Iran). This would not have been predicted by Barzani’s CIA and Mossad advisers. After Putin’s visit to Ankara, Russia is likely to trade its support of Turkey against the KRG referendum in exchange for Turkey’s support for the Russian solution in Syria. This will effectively reinforce the structures of cooperation that have been forged regionally at Astana over the Syria question, and extend them into the Iraqi political quagmire, to provide a framework within which the Iraqi government can be encouraged to reform without facing new potentially existential questions.

Part of what will be driving these developments is the perception by all parties that behind Barzani’s asinine decision lies a US-Israeli axis that will seek co-opt Saudi Arabia and the UAE into exploiting the Kurdistan referendum to start another round of proxy wars in the area. There is no doubt that military manoeuvres on KRG borders by Iranian and Turkish forces together with the Iraqi army reflect an urgent sense of preparing for the worst.

The neocon philosophy dominating the thinking of Barzani’s foreign advisers is typically always linear and always fails to understand the principle of reaction. Not only can Iran and Turkey see them coming, but these regional players now have the power jointly to do something about it, especially if Russia sees it is in its interest to come off the fence.

Iran in particular sees any Kurdistani project as a potential cordon sanitaire that will have the effect of cutting it off from Lebanon, to try to achieve the results that the botched war against Assad never could. So, contained in Hassan Nasrallah’s warnings to Israel and the US over coming conflicts is a promise to take the war to the occupied territories in that  event.


Another wall in the Middle East

The Turkish-Syrian border: another wall in the Middle East

Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow has clarified the status of Russo-Turkish relations. Russia does not want to open up a “front” with the US in Syria, by opposing the new Syria Kurdish US-sponsored government (PYD) . Therefore, despite the Turkish president’s pleas, the PYD office in Moscow will remain open, and cooperation between Russia and the Syrian Kurds continue. This cooperation came to light when evidence was uncovered that the YPG, the armed militia of the PYD, was using Russian satellite imagery to plan its military campaigns.

Turkish-Russian relations, on the other, have actually blossomed, and have reached the point that Erdoğan is even considering buying S-400 systems for Turkish air defence. The core of the two countries’ fast growing commercial relations centers on the building of the Turkstream pipeline through Turkey to Europe for Gazprom to avoid using Ukraine to transit its gas. However, when the Turkish army set about organising to assert its claim over the town of Manbij, where the YPG is ensconced, thus broadening its ‘safe’ region in Syria , Russia forestalled the move. It quickly brokered an agreement between the Syrian régime and the PYD to install régime forces in the path of Turkey forces, across the villages on Manbij’s western front.

It thus becomes clear that the region now dominated by Turkey and its rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), from A’zaz to el-Bab and across to Jarablus, is considered by Russia to be a sufficient concession to Turkish demands to secure its borders with Syria. Russia, on the other hand, seems to be happy with Turkey’s relationship with the Ukrainian government in Kiev, recently consolidated by a visa-free travel agreement between the two Black Sea neighbours, despite Russia’s problems with Kiev.

Meanwhile, Turkey is building a massive wall along its southeastern border to separate it from the new Syrian Kurdish cantons. Turkey is nevertheless allied with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Mahmoud Barzani and the Rojava Peshmerga forces, which are the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish National Council (ENKS). The ENKS is the umbrella group for Kurdish political parties in north Syria, excepting for the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Despite the visit of  an ENKS delegation to Washington, which aimed at highlighting the PYD administration’s oppression of other Kurdish political groups in northern Syria, the Pentagon seems to be firmly wedded to the PYD for its Northern Syrian strategy.

The left’s love affair with the Kurds

Byron in Albanian dress

Byron in Albanian dress

Ali Murat Yel writes

Individuals nowadays tend to think that current nation-states have existed since antiquity. For example, modern Greece as a state is less than 200 years old, since its independence in 1832. People only read in history books that Greece was a vassal territory of the Ottoman Empire and it took almost a decade to gain its sovereignty in the 19th century.

Again, many also tend to ignore the fact that it was not the Greeks themselves but an Englishman who helped start, or rather triggered the fire of independence among the Greek subjects of the empire.

Lord Byron, a famous personality in Britain at the time, galvanised support for the Greek cause among a group of authors, artists, scholars and travellers who were called Philhellenes (admirers of Greek) in Europe to restore or rather to regenerate the spirit of Ancient Greece. The motive of these individuals was understandable as they were educated on the “virtues of Greeks” living in ancient times such as democracy, state formation, art for the sake of art, and history.

Notwithstanding their view of modern Greeks as degenerate slaves, they still hoped upon gaining freedom they could revive the classical heritage as their roots. They were influential in rising sympathy for the Greek cause.

The emergence of Daesh was another source of sympathy, this time, for the Kurdish militiamen who are allegedly fighting against this terrorist organisation. Having failed in previous attempts in the Gulf wars, the United States and European powers are relatively reluctant to be engaged in the wars that erupted in the region.

Instead of sending land troops, they preferred to support the Kurdish militants by providing them with air cover, arms and other materials. Having become the new ally of the West, the Kurdish militias became the “new Greeks of the Middle East”.

We witnessed a similar trend in the international support for Iraq’s Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, who have also been fighting Daesh. This has led to general international sympathy toward Kurdish militants, regardless of the abuses they commit against fellow Kurds, or civilians of other ethnicities such as Arabs or Turkmens.

These Kurdish militiamen have their own agendas and the temporary fight against Daesh is not their main long-term objective. The West does not even care that these militiamen do not really represent the Kurds or that many Kurdish civilians are themselves afraid of or have fallen victim to such warlords.

In the 1930s, hundreds of European leftists joined “voluntary brigades” to fight for the republicans in the Spanish civil war. Today, however, the self-proclaimed anti-war left did not indulge in such a military campaign. Instead, some individual volunteers joined the “good guys” to defeat the “bad guys” in the war zone. It is estimated that some 100 westerners (European, Australian, and American) have joined the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

These Western foreign fighters may have different motivations than that of Lord Byron in Greece, or George Orwell in the Spanish civil war. Yet some of them, especially those coming from Britain, have changed their Facebook profile to pictures of Lord Byron wearing Albanian dress. They could be considered simply as adventurers but nonetheless they are trying to push their governments to be further involved in a war. Ironically, many in the self-described pro-peace left have unleashed themselves as war advocates if it is the right (i.e. Kurdish) war.

Similarly, Lord Byron and his Philhellene friends had eventually managed to attract the attention of European powers in support of the Greek independence revolution.

Today’s Western fighters are indifferent to the plight of the marginalised Muslim youth in their host societies, whose reality is more complex than the comprehension of the ideological warriors.

During the Spanish civil war, the foreign fighters who initially came to Spain to fight Fascist Franco ended up slaughtering each other instead and further destroying the country that they were meant to save. Today, by siding with Kurdish militias, they are helping in the terrorising of innocent civilians in the region – which includes Turkey.

Western help to Syrian Kurdish militias will end up shedding Turkish blood at the hands of militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast of Turkey – a country which is already fighting and being attacked by Daesh terror.

World public opinion may differentiate between Kurdish militias and Daesh militants but to the victims of both in the region terror is terror. Western distinctions would not make their lives any better.

These newly emerging “Philkurds” will continue to support any Kurdish militia as their governments embark on new attempts to refashion the Sykes-Picot carve-up of the region. But they all seem to forget that this is a small world: sooner or later the mess you make in the Middle East will rebound to haunt you at home.

Those who are used by the West don’t always do better: just ask the Greeks following their financial crisis.

Yel is Professor of Anthropology at Mamara University

published on

Russia working hard to undermine the Turkish position in Kurdistan

The close relationship between the Iraqi Kurdistani (KRG) and the Turkish government over the past 10 years has been the plank upon which Iraqi Kurdistan has grown, whereas the rest of Iraq’s economy has shrunk through mismanagement and corruption. The importance of the relationship was underscored by Turkey giving Barzani a head of state welcome in Ankara this week.

Accusations of untoward Turkish involvement on Iraqi territory, because of the presence of 400 Turkish troops which are providing services to Kurdistani Pershmerga forces, have been stoked by Russia. This is part of a policy of retaliation for the downing of its fighter jet, although the forces have been there all along with the agreement of, not only the KRG regional government, but of the leaders of the Sunni tribes who are trying to retake Mosul from DAESH/IS. The Baghdad government had given its assent, but not it writing. So its it withdrawing it under Russian-Iranian pressure.

Nouri al-Maliki has meanwhile called on the Popular Mobilisation Force militias to “be prepared and vigilant for the confrontation of enemy’s plans”. He also urged the Iraqi people to “stage protests on Saturday to reject the Turkish presence in Iraq as a response to all those trying to violate the land and sovereignty of Iraq,” which is another way of inviting the Shia militias that have so far divided Iraq to attack Turkish positions. It is worth noting that it was under al-Maliki that DAESH grew considerably, and that many fighters escaped from the prisons around Baghdad to form its leadership. It has never been clear whether Iran and, as a result, the Shia government of Baghdad has not encouraged the growth of DAESH/IS in order to consolidate plans for a greater Iran. This tactric was used during the 2003 Gulf War when Qasim Suleimani trained al-Qaeda fighters to fight against the US.

The US State Department press room was recently the scene of some interesting polemics over the question of the Turkish presence between an RT reporter and the State Dept spokesman.


So What about the PKK and the YPG in the current situation?

The PKK established the PYD in 2003, and since then, the Syrian group has been deferential to the leadership and ideology of its Turkish parent. Turkey understandably considers the PYD to be a terrorist movement like the PKK.

If Moscow has reportedly encouraged the YPG to unite the Kobane/Jazira and Afrin cantons to create a continuous belt of Kurdish controlled territory on Turkey’s border, then the PKK by extension will be considered a Russian client and peace within Turkey will be exceptionally difficult.


Furthermore, consider the PKK’s actions within Turkey over the past two years:

March 21, 2013: Abdullah Öcalan made his first call for the disarmament of the PKK.

May 7, 2013: Murat Karayılan declared that the PKK would withdraw all of its forces from Turkey.

July 2, 2013: the PKK attacked police stations in Lice, Diyarbakır.

Sept. 9, 2013: Cemil Bayık was elected as the head of the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK). In his first statement, he hinted at the restart of terrorist attacks.

Sept. 30, 2013: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a comprehensive democratization package. The PKK responded by announcing the formation of a new urban youth militia called the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H).

March 21, 2014: Öcalan made another call on the PKK to disarm. His message was read in both Turkish and Kurdish in Diyarbakır.

June 1, 2014: a Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) delegation went to meet Öcalan. The month of June saw numerous terrorist attacks by the PKK, killing soldiers and civilians.

Oct. 8, 2014: HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş called for street protests on the pretext of Kobani despite the fact Turkey allowed the Iraqi peshmerga to enter the city and accepted over 190,000 residents to the country. Demirtaş’s call led to the death of 50 people and polarized the society again. The opposition parties attacked the government for being too soft on the PKK.

Dec. 20, 2014: Cemil Bayık said “disarmament means death” for the PKK.

Feb. 28, 2015: Öcalan made another call on the KCK/PKK to disarm. In April and May of 2015, the PKK attacked security forces in eastern and southeastern cities, terrorized people before the June 7 elections, blocked roads, collected money by force, burned vehicles, attacked dams and threatened anyone who did not follow their orders. After the terrorist attack in Suruç on July 20, which left 33 people dead, the PKK intensified its terrorist attacks and declared open war. In September and October of this year, the PKK carried out tens of attacks on security officers and civilians across the country.