THEY are questions that no politician can avoid in what the international lexicon calls the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Is Kurdistan going to be independent? And, if so, when? Virtually all Iraq’s 6m Kurds would give an emphatic yes to the first question. But most would wobble and waffle on the second. Nor do they know exactly where the borders of the new state would run.
Many nations have declared independence in the past century: after Africa was decolonised; as the Soviet Union splintered; and often after civil wars (witness the countries that once made up Yugoslavia). And the Kurds have several advantages: a well-defined identity and language (close to Persian); a lack of religious strife (most adhere non-fanatically to Sunni Islam).
The Kurds have several advantages: a well-defined identity and language; a lack of religious strife
For the birth of an independent Kurdistan, the omens have never been so propitious. “We have waited long enough,” says Sirwan Barzani, a grandson of Mustafa Barzani (1903-79), the Kurds’ legendary leader whose descendants are in the vanguard of today’s fledgling state. “It has been a hundred years since we were divided between the four devils,” he says, referring to the regional carve-up of Kurdish lands after the first world war between the rump of Ottoman Turkey, Iran, Syria (then run by France) and Mesopotamia (run by Britain, and soon to become Iraq). “We will be independent within two years.”
Last June the jihadists of Islamic State (IS) raced across the Syrian desert and captured Mosul, Iraq’s second city, barely an hour’s drive from the Kurds’ capital, Erbil. IS declared that it had effaced the colonial-era Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria to create a new caliphate. But in seeking to break the states of the Arab world, IS may be helping the birth of a Kurdish one. The president of the Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, a son of Mustafa, declared that independence was around the corner. For Iraq, he argued, had ceased to exist. “The time has come to decide our fate, and we should not wait for other people to decide it for us,” he declared. Masrour Barzani, the president’s most powerful son, who runs the security council and the pervasive intelligence service, is also thought keen to hasten towards independence.
“The time has come to decide our fate, and we should not wait for other people to decide it for us”
“The situation after Mosul is completely different,” agrees Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister (and the president’s nephew). “You can’t go back to the same structure, the same system, because Iraq is now a failed state. There is no Iraqi nation. But independence won’t be offered to us, we’ll have to take it.” If the Kurds are diplomatically skilful, it could be achieved, he reckons, “in five or six years, maybe.”
Yet he is acutely conscious that a stable, independent Kurdistan can emerge only with the co-operation of its neighbours, especially Turkey, and with the agreement of the government of Iraq, such as it is. “The first country to talk to is Baghdad itself,” he says. “We have to convince them.”
His canny predecessor as the Kurds’ prime minister, Barham Salih, is looking forward to a time when IS has been pushed back. Baghdad must be “the anchor” of a new structure that would give the Kurds independence, he says. “The minute Mosul is liberated we’ll need to sit down and sort everything out.” The disputed borders between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq have been redrawn in the Kurds’ favour since the Iraqi army fled before the jihadists, letting the Kurds fill the vacuum (see map). Other leading Kurds vary over tactics and timing. But all think Kurdistan should, and can, become independent in the end.
Read the whole article here: The Economist