THE decision by Iraq’s Kurdish regional government to withdraw Peshmerga forces from positions in Kirkuk province rather than confront the Iraqi army is a welcome development.
The Peshmerga and the national army, together with its allies in the largely Shi’ite Popular Mobilisation Units, have co-operated successfully in trying to drive the Islamic State (Isis) death cult from Iraq’s territory.
That struggle is not yet over, with Isis units in western Iraq crossing the border to launch attacks on the Syrian army to disrupt progress in isolating and eradicating Isis in Deir Ezzor province.
All anti-Isis forces in Syria and Iraq have a shared interest in co-operating to defeat the jihadist menace and to defer secondary considerations until that project is complete.
It beggars belief that Kurdish regional government President Masoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) could have put anti-Isis unity in jeopardy by holding an independence referendum on September 25 in areas under their control.
Barzani’s tenure expired over two years ago, begging the question that, if the war precluded a presidential election, how was it practicable or desirable to hold a disputed independence poll?
It is important to note that the other main Iraqi Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), whose long-time leader Jalal Talabani died earlier this month, was initially dubious about the benefits of a referendum.
The PUK has insisted on the need to negotiate with Baghdad, although it joins the KDP in rejecting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s precondition demand that the pro-independence vote be disowned prior to talks.
By supporting Barzani’s stance on this issue, the PUK intends to ensure a joint negotiating team alongside the KDP rather than allowing its rival a free hand.
It is impossible to find any charitable explanation for Barzani’s precipitate action in calling a snap independence referendum, since it appears based on a land grab and an assertion of Kurdish control over Kirkuk province’s oil wealth.
The city of Kirkuk is largely populated by Arabs and Turkmens, both of which groups remain resolutely opposed to incorporation within an enlarged Kurdish entity, especially one claiming independence from Iraq.
Barzani is said by the Baghdad government to have invited armed units from Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to take up positions in Kirkuk and, presumably, to resist Abadi’s reassertion of Iraqi territorial unity.
Given the PKK’s proclaimed goal of autonomy within a unified Turkish state, it would be a massive own-goal for the group to take up arms to dismember a neighbouring state.
Barzani’s independence call has won support only from Israel which cherishes the possibility of witnessing the disintegration of multinational Arab states that oppose Tel Aviv’s ethnic cleansing and colonisation of Palestine.
While Baghdad banned international flights to and from the Kurdish region, Turkey closed its border and Iran shut its three official crossings with the region.
Even the US, which has provided air cover for the Iraqi Peshmerga and for the Syrian Democratic Forces dominated by the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), advised, for its own reasons, against holding a disputed independence referendum.
There is no future for the Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Iraq, Iran or Syria in acting as proxies for outside forces determined to undermine Arab regional unity.
They each have a right to national self-determination, but reality dictates that this should take the form of a negotiated autonomy within established states after the Isis threat is extinguished.