The territorial integrity of Iraq is endangered after the massive offensive of Islamists in June. The Iraqi army left the key cities of Tirkuk, Mosul and Kirkuk, and the Kurdish Peshmerga Army seize the city of Kirkuk. An old Iraqi proverb says: "He who controls Kirkuk, controls Iraq." Will the long-cherished dream of the Kurdish state become true?
The city of Kirkuk, together with the surrounding oil-rich province of Tamim, lies the basis of a political and economic dispute between the Kurdish autonomy (Iraqi Kurdistan), headed by Massoud Barzani and the Iraqi government led by Shiite Nouri al-Maliki. In mid-June, the Sunni Islamist movement of "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL, aka ISIS) intervened in the dispute. Representatives of the movement announced the creation of their own state on the territory of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq - the core of the future of the Great Caliphate. Thus, the territorial integrity of Iraq is now in danger.
"The country disintegrated long ago. Today, they move in the direction of the pieces that they picked up," Stafford Clarry, a former United Nations representative in Iraqi Kurdistan, told Time. "Forget about the national point of view and attempts to build a unified country. This train has long left the station," said the expert.
The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, to establish control over oil-rich regions of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a friend with the Kurds at first and even promised them autonomy, but then conducted an operation of mass genocide of the Kurds, known as "Anfal." During the operation, up to 180,000 Kurds were deported to an unknown destination and executed. A number of Kurdish villages and the town of Halabja were showered with chemical bombs. Saddam was trying to make Kurdish ancestral lands, including Kirkuk, Arabic.
After the withdrawal of American troops in 2011, the Kurds did not gain independence. The Americans took into account the opinion of Turkey and its then-ally - Syria, that also have numerous Kurdish communities that insist on their territorial integrity. Keeping 30 to 40 million people obedient was getting increasingly difficult. The "Arab Spring" was a catalyst process. In Syria, the Kurds received autonomy from Assad and control their territories. In Turkey, Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has long been committed to this, but the talks between Turkish PM Erdogan and Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan were suspended under the pretext of abuse by the Kurds. It was claimed that the PKK had not stopped armed struggle.
The Kurds call the autonomy in Iraq Southern Kurdistan and in Syria - Western Kurdistan; compact settlements in Turkey - Northern Kurdistan and in Iran - Eastern Kurdistan. The Kurds also live in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. In the north and west, most Kurds profess Sunni Islam. Shiite Muslims live mainly in the south and east. Muslim Kurds practice Sufism, a doctrine of eternal wisdom. In addition to Muslims in the "Great Kurdistan" as the Kurds call their hypothetical state, there are representatives of other religious confessions: Yezidis, Christian monophysites, Zoroastrians, Ali-Hulks and others. During the 1990s, there were military clashes between the Kurds of various confessions, so this is not a monolithic community, as is commonly believed.
The President of Iraqi Kurdistan is Massoud Barzani (elected in 2005). The autonomy has been flourishing for all these years, thanks to one-way sales of oil through Turkey, against the will of the central government. Billions of dollars of foreign investment caused an unprecedented construction boom. Today, Iraqi Kurdistan is the most developed province in Iraq. After the ISIS army invaded Iraq from Syria on June 12, Peshmerga forces took control of the city of Kirkuk, which, although not included in the Kurdish autonomy, is considered a Kurdish city. The Peshmerga leadership said it would independently maintain peace in the province and autonomy and would not help Prime Minister Al-Maliki expel Islamists from other territories. According to Time, the decision was made despite USA's pressure. On June 14, clashes occurred between the Kurds and government forces near Kirkuk, which increased distrust between Baghdad and Erbil.
The Kurds believe that the time has come to annex the city and proclaim independence of Southern Kurdistan. Thus, they win a real chance to subsequently form the Greater Kurdistan. The only people, who can prevent the creation of Greater Kurdistan, are the Kurds themselves.
"The history of the Kurdish people is tragic. Enemies managed to break apart the nation using the religious factor, sow hatred and incite fratricidal war," - wrote Ishhan Miro, chief editor of the Free Kurdistan newspaper. "It has been possible for centuries and continues today. And it is a great pity that we often become accomplices of these bloody crimes. Being a Kurd, a Yezidi, a Muslim, an Alawite, a Christian, a Jew, or a representative of another religious group, one must first think about the unity of nation. If it is not us, then it is our children, who will be destined to return to their homeland not to live on a foreign land for life, not to dissolve and disappear in the sea of human beings."
Russian experts are skeptical about the idea. "I believe that the events that are happening in Iraq now, can not be interpreted in such a way that there is a big chance for the Kurds to unite in a single state," Ajar Kurtov, a historian, political scientist and chief editor of "Problems of National Strategy" told Pravda.Ru. "The notion of the Kurds implies a certain ethnicity, which actually consists of many different subjects. During the XX-XXI centuries, there were situations, when a part of the Kurds would trigger armed uprisings, and another part would not support them. Then they would fight with one another. That is, the Kurds are not consolidated on a truly national basis. They are divided by national boundaries, political preferences. Therefore, the day, when the united state of Kurdistan may appear on the map of the world is a fantasy," said the expert.
The policy of the United States towards self-determination of the Kurds would be different depending on whom the Americans supported. When it was necessary to remove Hussein, the United States would claim that the Kurds needed independence. As soon as the issue of oil came to the surface, they preferred to talk about the territorial integrity of Iraq. The State Department continues to talk about it today. And what about Russia?
"I think it is quite possible that Russia may support the new state," Anatoly Tsiganok, the Director of the Center for Military Forecasting, corresponding member of the Academy of Military Sciences, told Pravda.Ru. "I think it is necessary. We forget that the Kurdish population - from 40 to 60 million people - was artificially divided, and I think they have the right to self-determination, just like Ossetians and Abkhazians do. Frankly, when it comes to self-determination of unrecognized states (there are about 30 of them in the world), it is a question to recognize either their independence or territorial integrity."
However, the precedent of the Crimea showed that people's will for self-determination can not be broken either with dogmas of territorial integrity or pressure from global players. One can see a new radical Sunni state growing on the ruins of the Middle East. Kurdistan is rising. Time will show whether Syria, Lebanon and Iraq can survive. It seems that they will become different states.