US Think Tank: Kurdish Statehood Coming “sooner rather than later”
By James Reinl
NEW YORK—Recent shifts in the political landscape of the Middle East mean that Iraq’s Kurds will gain independence “sooner rather than later”, according to Steven Cook, an analyst for the US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations.
“There is a certain inevitability here. I don’t know the date for Kurdish independence in Iraq but it’s coming sooner rather than later,” Cook said during a seminar on Israeli-Palestinian violence and the takeover of swathes of Iraq and Syria by the hardline Islamic State.
“They are not committed to a unified Iraq, which they call a fiction. They are going through the political process in Baghdad to prove to everybody that they are not to be blamed for the breakup of Iraq. When this political process comes to an end – without anybody’s satisfaction – the Kurds will ultimately make moves to go their own way.”
Cook spoke from Washington on Tuesday as the Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot that has also been called ISIS and ISIL, continued to threaten Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, having won stretches of northern Iraq during a lightening advance from neighboring Syria in June.
Cook, a scholar who visited the Kurdistan Region last month, said the goal of Kurdish independence was bolstered by the autonomous region’s growing oil exports and less hostility from Turkey towards the creation of a Kurdish state.
“The Turks have made their peace with the idea of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Masrour Barzani [head of the Kurdish region’s National Security Council] and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have this interesting symbiotic relationship where Barzani can make Erdogan the king of the Turks and Erdogan can make Barzani the king of the Kurds, and where the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq really helps both politically,” he said.
Another panellist, the Middle East scholar Ray Takeyh, said that rowing in Baghdad over Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki’s leadership did not signal a collapse of the country and added that “Kurdish separatism will have substantial challenges ahead”.
“What surprises me about Iraq is its resilience as a nation state. Every time Iraq goes through these tribulations, people take to their Op-ed pages calling to separate it into three entities, on the theory that three Iraqs are better than one,” Takeyh told the Council on Foreign Relations forum.
“There is something about maintaining your loose, federal, messy, untidy structure in Iraq that seems to have an appeal to a large constituency in that country – irrespective of the conflicts that they have in trying to maintain it.”