Mosul to ISIL, Kirkuk to Barzani
Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, paid a one-day visit to Ankara on June 26, upon the invitation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to discuss in detail the developments in the whole of Iraq.
Both Ankara and Arbil see Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as the main reason for the growing unrest and instability in Iraq, and thus believe he should quit office and pave the way for a smooth transition in the country. An inclusive government under a moderate figure should immediately be formed with the efficient participation of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, reflecting the general approach of the international community.
It’s for sure that al-Maliki’s sectarian-based policies are the main sources of tension in the country, as crowds of Sunnis feel rage against the government because of his discriminatory moves. Al-Maliki also distanced Kurds and created mistrust toward the central government, weakening the fragile bonds of unity and integrity in the country.
Even some key Shiite leaders, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have slammed al-Maliki over his policies, with al-Sistani calling on June 27 for the formation of an effective government and for an immediate halt to violence. Al-Maliki delayed the formation of the government after April 30 and only held talks at Parliament after pressure from the Americans.
But al-Maliki is not alone in the regional league of irresponsible leaders. Take Masoud Barzani for example. “We have been patient for 10 years with the federal government [for them] to solve the problems of these [disputed] areas. There were Iraqi forces in these areas, and then there was a security vacuum, and [Kurdish] peshmerga forces went to fill this vacuum,” said Barzani at a press conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on June 27. He vowed that there was no going back on autonomous Kurdish rule in Kirkuk and some other nearby towns, explicitly announcing the “permanent capture” of one of the most important cities in this region. Kirkuk is home to Turkmens, Kurds and Sunni groups and its status must be determined through a referendum according to the current Iraqi constitution.
Also among our irresponsible leaders are some Sunni politicians who try to depict the aggression by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a “Sunni revolution” against al-Maliki’s oppressive policies. This rhetoric will only help bring about the legitimization of such a brutal and blood-handed terrorist organization in the eyes of Sunni crowds and especially attract youngsters from the vast Muslim world to join it.
In the Turkish version of the developments in Iraq, there is a conflicting picture. Turkey’s top security board underlined the need of the protection of territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, but statements coming from officials tell another story. Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Head Hüseyin Çelik has been the most outspoken on this issue, stressing that Kurds have the right to self-determination.
There are more and more Turkish officials who are talking more bluntly, arguing that the dangerous situation in Iraq gives Kurds the right to protect their population and territories. According to sources, the strongest sentence that Erdoğan told Nechirvan Barzani was that the “utmost attention should be paid in not taking steps that could hurt brotherly relations between Kurds, Turkmens and Sunnis” following the KRG’s seizure of Kirkuk. Obviously, Erdoğan and Barzani talked more about the developing oil trade and plans to carry more oil to world markets through a pipeline from northern Iraq to the Turkish Ceyhan terminal.
Both Kirkuk and Mosul are historically important Iraqi cities to Turkey. The former is in the hands of Barzani unconstitutionally and the latter is in the hands of jihadists, who at the same time have held 80 Turkish citizens - including Mosul’s consul general - as hostages for more than two weeks. The instability is deepening and spilling over into the region, with Turkey and its citizens the most vulnerable to these unwanted developments.