As the Kurds of Syria are moving ahead with plans to create their own federal region, the speaker of the Kurdistan parliament suggested partitioning Iraq might resolve its “age-old fears and tension.”
“From the beginning of Iraq its various groups have tried to live together, but it did not work out. So as a Kurd it is my right to have my own state and it doesn’t violate the rights of any other group in Iraq,” Yousif Muhammad said at the Sulaimani Forum on Wednesday, where he sat on a panel with Iraq’s higher education minister, Hussein Shahristani.
“We should not fear separation,” Muhammad declared, as reported by the Kurdish Rudaw news service. “The best thing is to end the centuries-old flow of blood and we should not fight for a geography that no longer exists.”
Shahristani argued against partition, even as Muhammad spoke about the old Iraq in the past tense. The education minister claimed both the Sunni and Shiite citizens of Iraq would reject partition, “because they know it won’t solve their problems.”
Shahristani also argued that the rest of the world “tried nation states, but they realized it doesn’t work, and now they work for integration and union,” which is a highly debatable assertion, given that the European Union seems on the verge of falling apart.
The Iraqi Kurds will not be without international allies if they assert greater independence from Baghdad. The Russians have begun supplying Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq with weapons, delivering them with ceremony, in the presence of Russian ambassadors, rather than just kicking them out of cargo planes with parachutes.
“After the transfer of the arms shipment, the Russian ambassador said that this is not the last batch of weapons,” a Russian attache said from Erbil, as reported by RBTH News. “He said that Russia hopes that, with this weapon, Peshmerga and Iraqi forces will defeat ISIS.”
RBTH goes on to quote Russian analysts and officials who say this is not just military cooperation against the Islamic State, but part of a Russian agenda to improve ties with the Kurds. “Moscow has also stressed that today the Kurdish community is becoming an important, visible and active part of the Middle East process to be reckoned with,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, chief editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine.
Oil could become a big part of the Russian-Kurdish relationship. The Kurds have expressed interest in attracting Russian oil companies to Iraqi Kurdistan, even as Baghdad shuts down Kurdish pipelines to pressure them on revenue-sharing agreements. Such tactics might end up pressuring them into redrawing the map of Iraq instead.