By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai
The project to divide Iraq was dealt a deathblow by a decision of the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi to send the Army and the security forces to recover all Iraqi territories controlled by the Kurds of Massoud Barzani. The Kurdish leader was riding the horse of Iraqi partition (in fact, a lame horse) to establish a Kurdish state in the northern part of the country. Following the failure of Barzani’s project in taking advantage of the fight against ISIS and therefore declaring his “state”, every country in the Middle East is abandoning him because no one likes to be associated with failure.
Barzani sent envoys (I personally met some) around the globe who returned with apparently promising results: “over 80 countries promised to recognise the new State of Kurdistan”. These promises turned out to be false (“no friends but the mountains”), other (existing) political alliances turned out to be stronger and Barzani was left alone with his empty promises and unreliable advisors.
Countries of the region – France, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to start with – are now establishing a clear and unambiguous relationship with Baghdad’s government. Abadi, following an authorisation of parliament, used a fist of iron to fragment the partition project – not only of Iraq – but of the entire region, that was supposed to be sparked off by the Kurds in Iraq and in Syria and via the regime change attempt in the Levant.
In less than 48 hours, the Iraqi army, with all its security services (army, popular mobilisation units, Counter-Terrorism, Federal Police), extended its control over Kirkuk, Khanaqin (Diyala), Bashiqa, Makhmour (Nineveh) and Sinjar, the city that leads to the borders with Syria. All territories that were established for Baghdad’s control under the US administrator Paul Bremer in 2003-2004 (with the limits of Kurdistan) are back now in place.
Abadi forced the Kurdish Peshmerga to return to the old areas they controlled in 2003 after they took advantage of the “Islamic State’s” (ISIS) occupation of large Iraqi territories in the north and north-east and north-west of Iraq in 2014.
Most importantly, the Baghdad government has started its recovery of territory (following Kurdistan referendum) from the rich province of Kirkuk – which produces more than 65 percent of Iraq’s northern oil (about 500,000 bpd), which accounts for about 40 percent of Iraq’s total national oil production. Kirkuk includes the oil fields of Tawke, Peshkabir, Atrush, Shaikan, TaqTaq, Khurmala Dome Avana Dome, Bab Jambur, BaiHasan: all were recovered and are now under Baghdad’s central government control.
Thus, by recovering Kirkuk (and its oil fields), Abadi stopped the rise of the “State of Kurdistan”, which cannot exist with the remaining northern oil without substantial financial support from Baghdad to pay the salaries of the army (Peshmerga) and official employees, and this as long as Erbil delivers the full production of oil: in exchange 17% of its revenue will be due to Kurdistan. Massoud Barzani will have to withdraw from the political scene because he will be unwilling to beg for the return to the archaic relationship with Baghdad government and obey the Prime Minister- this might prove just too humiliating.
Pavel Talabani, the son of the Iraqi ex-President Jalal Talabani, declared that the Kurdish army in the eastern regions of Khanaqin-Sulaymaniyah was under the command of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, thus taking his distance from Erbil, further isolating the Kurdish Leader Masoud Barzani: who is in fact the biggest loser today in Iraq.
The first to abandon Barzani was Turkey, which has announced that it will close its border (after days of hesitation awaiting the concrete results of Massoud’s separatist rejection of biding by the constitution and Baghdad’s reaction to it) with Kurdistan and handed over the main crossing point between the two countries to the central government in Baghdad and its forces. Saudi Arabia followed immediately with direct contact between King Salmam, who offered his congratulations to Abadi and rejected Barzani’s rebellion.
With the collapse of the Barzani project, the United States had much less hope than before of pushing Syrian Kurds towards independence from Damascus. Baghdad has regained control of the crossings between Iraq and Syria in Sinjar – Rabi’a. Two more crossings remain outside of Baghdad’s control: Tanf under US control temporarily and al-Qaem under ISIS. This means no support, no exit and no entrance will remain legally available to the Syrian Kurds. The new situation will lock down the airspace from Syrian al-Hasaka which is surrounded by Turkey in the west, by the forces of Damascus in the south and by the regular Iraqi forces in the east.
Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided the Levant in the wake of World War I, was revived after analysts and diplomats called for the redrawing of the borders of the Middle East region, especially Iraq and Syria, the creation of a new state called Kurdistan (Iraq and Syria), a new Sunnistan (for Sunni in Anbar-Iraq and Idlib – Syria) and Shiistan in south of Iraq.
Turkey has begun to review its policy with Iraq and it will certainly find common ground with Baghdad so that it withdraws its troops from Bashika and other areas now that Abadi has showed his teeth against Erbil’s decision and his willingness to wage war against those who want to divide Iraq (and without considering the cost).
The attractive commercial relationship, that has been at the centre of the attention of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will prevail, and will encourage Iraq and Turkey to re-establish good neighbourly relations ( Turkish-Syrian relationships will certainly follow after the war ends in Syria).
The US will be forced today to reconsider its presence in the north-east of Syria because such a presence has now become meaningless. The US forces are stationed in al-Tanaf without any strategic purpose and in al-Hasaka/Raqqah with the Kurds, whereas ISIS has been defeated in its Syrian capital. In fact, it is possibly easier for its own proxies – the Syrian Kurds – to give up this alliance in time, before this same US drops them. Kurdish interests don’t lie with Washington but with Damascus, ready to establish a constructive dialogue with them if they stop being seduced by the US’s temporary interest in the Levant.
And lastly, Haider al-Abadi gave himself the political impetus he had missed in recent years. Yes, Iran played a key role in warning Masoud Barzani, a day before the start of the Iraqi operation to recover all territories from the Peshmerga: the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Qasem Soleimani alerted Barzani to the gravity of the situation (but in vain). He pressed the Iranian-Talabani ally to stand down and take distance from Barzani, and to support Abadi in countering Kurdistan’s “partition plans”.
But it was Abadi’s final decision to act. He rendered a huge service to Syria and to his own country. Abadi has secured himself a strong place in the Iraqi political arena and the upcoming elections as a Prime Minister for a second term. It will be very difficult to compete with him, he who destroyed ISIS but, above all, the “hero” who exploded the biggest danger of all: the partition of Iraq … and Syria.