Monday, March 6, 2017

Driving ISIS From Iraq May Just Make Things More Interesting

       I saw, via Instapundit, this headline: "Masoud Barzani: Independent Kurdistan is loyal response to Peshmerga sacrifices." The article reports:
       The fall of Mosul is likely to mark the beginning of the breakup of Iraq, as has been the case with countries who have come out of ethnic and religious conflicts, such as Czechoslovakia, Kurdish President Masoud Barzani says, adding that an independent Kurdistan would bring more stability to the Middle East, a region that otherwise has been troubled with massacres and conflict since the two world wars. 
       Barzani went on to say "independence and complete liberation" will be the loyal reward for the past and present sacrifices of the Kurdish nation. 
       President Barzani made these remarks to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, published on March 5, coinciding with the anniversary of the Kurdish uprising against the former Iraqi regime in 1991 which eventually gave birth to the present autonomous Kurdistan Region with its own parliament, government and armed forces. 
       "The desire to keep the united Iraq is there, but the reality is that today Iraq is already divided by unsolvable problems,” Barzani said when asked whether Iraq will come out of the war against ISIS as a united state. “Sunnis and Shiites have been fighting for 1400 years and we Kurds are the victims of this war. We have to find a new formula of coexistence."

       Barzani said that “too many massacres have occurred, leaving no room for reconciliation,” with a divided Iraq along the sectarian lines of Sunnis and Shiites, as he commented on the prospect of an independent Kurdistan, saying that the Kurds had tried to reconcile with the rest of the country after the fall of Saddam in 2003, but it failed because of the sectarian war between the two sects that has been going on for 1400 years.

       "The independence of Kurdistan would create an area of ​​stability in this region. We have already seen too much blood and injustice,” Barzani said, noting that an independent Kurdistan will be “based on the rule of law, respect for democratic rules, coexistence between different identities, and a multiparty system.”
        Barzani is probably correct on all counts. The Kurds were key in saving many of the Yazidis and Christians that sought to flee ISIS, which may be taken as a sign that they might, possibly, be able to form a sectarian state. Yet, they also have the cohesiveness to form a stable nation-state. That they would likely retain all or most of the oil fields in Northern Iraq would insure access to foreign currencies necessary for trade.

       Barzani is also correct that we really have yet to see what will come out of the Pandora's box opened by Bush with the failed invasion of Iraq (the military portion was a success, but Bush lost the subsequent peace because he didn't understand the political balance necessary in Middle-Eastern countries, and insisted on forcing a Western democratic government on a tribal culture).* Obama, of course, poured gasoline on the whole thing with his initiation of a civil war in Syria and creating the failed state that marks where Libya once was.**

       Richard Fernandez wrote about this issue this past week in his article, "We will, we will Raqqa."
       But just as the fall of Berlin in 1945 was immediately succeeded by a new Cold War between the victors, analysts are worried that the fall of Mosul will mark not only the end of ISIS on Iraqi territory but also the demise of the coalition which expelled them.  "Every major faction involved in fighting ISIS has its own priorities and conflicting goals. The former Sunni governor of Ninewa—the province of which Mosul is part—wants to make it an Arab Sunni enclave. The Kurds—which are divided against each other—have their own ambitions and talk about independence. The Iraqi Army remains weak and uncertain, and the police are all too ineffective and divided along sectarian and tribal lines. Some of the Shi’ite militias have mistreated Sunni Arab civilians in past operations and are extremists in their own right." 
       The fall of Mosul may raise the curtain on a new struggle over the future of Iraq.  It will not settle the fate of ISIS since large part of their remaining territory including its capital of Raqqa lies across the border in Syria.  There is no way to march on Raqqa unless the coalition of Kurds, Turks, Shi'ite militias and Iraqi government forces -- or yet another proxy force  -- crosses the frontier in pursuit after them. That could be a problem.  As Benny Avni noted in the New York Post, sending an army into Syria could potentially put America in conflict with Russia.
* * *
       Despite speculation the Trump administration would exclude the Kurds they have persisted in their efforts to include them, but attempts by the Trump administration to change Erdogan's mind have been fruitless. "Turkey is ruling out compromise with the United States over the involvement of Kurdish militia fighters in an assault in Syria, an obstacle for Washington's plan to deploy its strongest allies on the ground in a decisive showdown with Islamic State."
* * *
       The problem is more political than military.  Some journalists have been privately told the Trump administration can replace any missing contingents with more American firepower.  Raqqa can be taken from a purely operational standpoint.  But there is less confidence that winning one war will not inadvertently ignite another. Turkish forces for example cannot advance on Raqqa without pushing through Kurdish forces.   It is perfectly possible for members of the winning coalition to turn against each other as was the case in post-Nazi Berlin. 
       For the moment the ISIS capital is protected, not by any military strength, but by the Gordian knot of Middle Eastern ethnic rivalries.  The fear is that Raqqa's fall will be the end of one conflict and the beginning of another.
       It looks like an endless cycle of wars for the foreseeable future.

Notes:

* More correctly, his advisers, and their advisers, from the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon, did not understand the Middle-East.

**  I guess to keep my metaphors straight, I should say that Obama then gleefully jumped in to open more Pandora's boxes.

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