By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
As Americans celebrate independence and prepare for the fireworks, the Kurds celebrate their de facto independence and formally ask a referendum from their local parliament. The call for a vote on America’s 4th of July is meant to be symbolic.
Meanwhile the Sunni have already left Baghdad in droves and remain hostage to extremists of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) as well as a rally from anti-Maliki elements and with help from foreign Arab interests.
On June 30, ex-U.S. prisoner and ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced himself the caliphate of large parts of Syria and Iraq- wherever ISIL had operational control. A caliphate will impose the strictest interpretation of Islamic law as well as pre-Islamic Arabian norms.
Shia leadership in Baghdad has been infiltrated by Tehran for years and they are now more closely aligned with them than ever before. Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Shia militia men are Baghdad’s true allies as they wage sectarian warfare against ISIL.
Iraq as a whole has virtually declared its independence from Washington for some time now as it realigned with Tehran more and as Arab states funded Sunni insurrection. All of this came in spite of U.S. political, military and economic assistance since the American departure.
As for the Kurds, Ankara already recognizes them through a massive oil trade and security ally in the fight against ISIL. Even Israel is beginning to see the importance of backing an Independent Kurdish state, with officials including Netanyahu realizing a Kurdistan as another important regional ally and as a necessity for moderate Islamic partners in the region.
America would benefit too by supporting and or recognizing Kurdish independence while at the same time making sure that the Shia and the Kurds remained friends and not enemies. Not doing so is a denial of reality and a position that it cannot afford forever, as the Kurds drift apart. If they remain ignorant to the political reality, then they run the larger risk of cold future relations in a much needed regional partner; one in which even Israel strongly seeks.
If a Shia Baghdad gets greedy here at this juncture, they will be torn apart before they have a chance to face ISIL in unity.
Such a division, one the U.S. State Department is much aware of, has been thought to necessitate union so far, but it might be possible that in such a crisis, Baghdad will tolerate or could be coaxed to supporting such a deal. But even if they are not, could Iraq central refrain from attacking two separatists at once?
This is something Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has been reluctant to do so far and it seems less likely he will or is even capable of now with all of Sunni Iraq in virtual revolt. And it is for this reason that the Kurdish authorities have been pressing the political reshuffle and scramble toward their own state- which goes well beyond the semi-autonomy they have now and will allow them to legally run their own affairs and trade with foreign states- activities they are presently doing anyway.
The deal could include a mutual defense treaty against ISIL and an extensive cooperative counter-terrorism partnership. It would also most likely have to include giving back the territorial gains by the Kurds- and therein lies the largest point of contention beyond oil distribution access rights and an independent economy.
The Sunni leadership in Parliament are against an Kurdish state for the reason that they worry about the treatment of non-ethnic Kurdish Sunni in Kurdish territory.
Can the Kurds and Shia remain united enough as separate states?
Can Baghdad offer enough autonomy in basically what might resemble a confederate structure of autonomous regions to Kurds and reintegrated Sunnis?
Iraq’s Kurdish President Massoud Barzani plans to hold the referendum on independence for the five million Kurds in an accelerated rate as the opportunity for him to do so widens each moment with ISIL victories. They are waiting on Baghdad now and if they do not get the responses they seek, the Kurds will pursue a course of “self-determination” on their own. They have also proven to be the most determined and effective fighters against ISIL so far while the national military lacks such commitment.
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