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Jen Alic

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Double Dealing in Iraq and Syria: The Kurdish Independence Gamble

Adding Syria to the Baghdad-Irbil equation makes for a rather interesting geopolitical sum, but there is no clear winner emerging just yet as everyone from international oil companies, Western governments, Turkey and the Syrian regime attempts to buy Kurdish patronage with promises of independence.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has handed over control of six Kurdish-dominated towns in Syria’s north to the Kurds.

This is Assad’s answer to Turkish and Western machinations to get the Syrian Kurds to support the opposition in their efforts to overthrow Assad. KRG head Massoud Barzani has been the henchman behind rallying the various Kurdish groups behind the scheme. They are being promised an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq and northern Syria. Assad is now promising them the same thing essentially. By doing so he is hoping to thwart Western/Turkish plans.

The question then becomes, whose offer of an independent Kurdish nation will they accept? The answer is whichever is most likely to come to fruition.

Late last month, Assad withdrew his forces from Kurdish towns as a gesture of goodwill. This leaves the Kurds to regroup and rearm, and whether they manage to make an independent nation out of the territory or not, Assad has relinquished control and he will have a hard time ever getting it back. 

Turkey is playing a very dangerous game in all of this. It could succeed in finally winning the Kurds over by bolstering northern Iraq at the expense of the Iraqi central government and then hoping that the KRG’s Barzani can win over the Syrian Kurds at the same time. Alternatively, it could face a new and greater threat from newly “independent” Syrian Kurds for all intents and purposes unleashed by Assad and free to launch attacks across the border in Turkey.

For now, on the public surface, the Kurds are opposed to the revolt against Assad. Some reports say that the Kurds in Syria are already making a public display of Kurdish (PKK) flags, ensuring that they can be seen by the Turks right across the border. 

Of course, the Kurds are no friend to the Assad regime, and insist that rather than withdrawing his forces, the Kurds pushed Syrian forces out of the area.

But all of this is on the surface, and while the Kurds’ public stance is that they will not align with the opposition against Assad, one important factor in convincing the Kurds that now is the time to declare independence is what is happing in northern Iraq. Independence requires economy, and northern Iraq’s oil and the increasing amount of business being undertaken in the region could be seen as the backbone of that economic independence. If that is how it is being perceived, then the Kurds will ditch Assad in favor of the West, whose major oil companies are setting the stage for KRG oil autonomy and a very bitter battle with Baghdad. 

Certainly, the Turkish prime minister didn’t think Ankara’s double-dealing with Baghdad and Irbil could go on much longer without any repercussions?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has decided he’s had enough. Over the weekend, Maliki lashed out at Turkey for treating northern Iraq as an independent Kurdish nation. The statement came on the heels of a visit to Kirkuk, Kurdistan by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. It was an additional stopover combined on the Iraq trip for which Ankara failed to inform Baghdad in advance.

Turkey has been walking a thin line with Baghdad. In July, the KRG began exporting oil to Turkey without Baghdad’s permission. Northern Iraq has become a favored place of business for Turks, and annual trade between the two is now in the billions.

Also of importance is the fact that the Iraqi central government in Baghdad supports the Assad regime. From here, the geo-mathematics of Western support for the KRG via international oil majors and the “x” factor of Syria is not too difficult to calculate.

By. Jen Alic of Oilprice.com

Jen Alic is a geopolitical analyst, co-founder of ISA Intel in Sarajevo and Tel Aviv, and the former editor-in-chief of ISN Security Watch in Zurich.




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Leave a comment
  • evodevo on August 15 2012 said:
    If I was the Kurds, I would make sure I had the independent territory first, and THEN option out the oil contracts. These people have been shunted and hunted from one territory to the next for a couple thousand years. No use being a sucker for the umpteenth time.

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