By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai
Kurdistan Iraq has announced that it had “frozen the results of the referendum for independence” and that it is ready to negotiate with the central government of Baghdad. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani has ended the idea of dividing Iraq indefinitely and has succumbed to Baghdad’s determination to regain control of the country.
Not only did Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi recover all the land seized by the Kurdish forces who exploited the occupation of the “Islamic State” group (ISIS) to Iraqi areas in 2014, he is deploying the Iraqi forces along the lines and territories adopted in March 2003 as the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous area.
Masoud Barzani has lost all the privileges and gains he has made in the last 10 years that have given Kurdistan unparalleled prosperity. The Kurdish leader is at a low point in his reputation and popularity among Iraqis, including Kurds.
But Barzani – who declared the Iraqi constitution void and in particular the Article 140 which stipulates negotiations over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil – demands today a ceasefire and a return to the Iraqi constitution. But Baghdad, which wants to implement the constitution, also wants Barzani to respond to the more than $ 51 billion income in oil paid by the world’s oil companies through the sale of Iraqi oil (without being returned to Baghdad as stipulated by the constitution), and the income from telecommunications and province benefits and salaries.
On the other hand, Iran reopened the border crossing with Sulaymaniyah, which was closed after Massoud Barzani’s insistence on secession from Iraq. Kurdish leaders in Sulaymaniyah have taken a different stance than Barzani from Erbil’s position and its leaders’ stance with Baghdad.
Turkey had delayed closing its ground crossings with Kurdistan and was waiting to see if Barzani will manage to hold on to Kirkuk without any reaction form Baghdad. But the day the Iraqi government got hold of Kirkuk and its oil fields, all Turkish crossings with Kurdistan were closed. That was the day when the residents of Kurdistan felt the danger and isolation and seriously realised that regional and international leaders no longer supported the division of Iraq or the beginning of a “Kurdish state” which could well have been the start of a bloodbath in different parts of the Middle East.
Thus, the first part stage of the partition of the Middle East was cancelled, but that of Syria remains open – even shyly – until the end of the war on ISIS and the restoration of the Iraqi-Syrian territory it still controls.
Baghdad began the battle of Rawa and al-Qaim and the Iraqi and Syrian forces are expected to meet on both sides of the border to end the existence of the group in that part of Mesopotamia and Bilad al-Sham. ISIS remains in pockets inside Syria, and is expected to be eliminated in various stages (ISIS still exists in rural Deir Al-Zour, al Hajar al-Aswad Damascus, and on the Syrian-Israeli borders).
The decision of Kurdistan to withdraw from the referendum was not easy because it would weaken Barzani and his party, especially after separate incidents that had occurred between the Peshmerga Kurdish rebel forces and the Iraqi forces. These clashes led to death and injury among the belligerents.
Baghdad was prepared for such reactions and injected large forces, especially to the Makhmour area, and particularly to the border crossing of Feshkhabur with Turkey and in the Rabia area, where Iraqi oil is exported also to the neighbouring country, Turkey.
The Iraqi Prime Minister is flexing his muscles, not only with the Kurds but also with Iran. Abadi, In an unprecedented overt criticism of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani, Haidar Abadi said :”Some people say that someone came … I do not know from where … from Mars maybe, to solve the Kirkuk crisis. One single person- people say – solved the whole crisis. Why he didn’t solve ISIS crisis single-handedly? If it’s a matter of luck or this man in question is Superman, why did not he stop the war in Iraq, him alone?”
The Iraqi prime minister wanted to show the world, the Iraqis, and especially the countries of the region, that he is a man capable of dealing with crisis, a strong non-hesitant politician when needed, and he is not Iran’s or any other country’s surrogate but wants to build a strong independent state with good relations with all countries. Abadi showed he is capable of using soft power when necessary as he did with Kurdistan and Massoud Barzani, and will not hesitate to hit Iraqis who keep their weapons (Iranian proxies in Iraq) after the defeat of ISIS.
It is clear that Abadi does not seek revenge against the Kurdish leader. He will not stop at ending the referendum, but will go to the actual accountability of all those accused of corruption and waste of public funds. This indicates that the independence and renaissance of Iraq will begin with the start of 2018. This is when Iraq is expected to be ISIS-free, and without the suicide and terrorism attacks that the whole world suffers from without exception. A new future is expected to start with Iraq as an independent state with significant financial resources (despite debts accumulated due to war on ISIS) and playing a significant role in the Middle East.