Military


Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG]

The Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] already has all the trappings of independence: The Kurds have their own administration, military, textbooks and control over their borders.

By 18 October 2017 the Iraqi government took control of all disputed regions in an effort to counter the Kurdish push for independence. The Iraqi military said that it took control of Kurdish-held areas in the north that include Sinjar and Mosul. The Kurds had advanced into and retaken these areas from the Islamic State militant group. Kurd withdrawal put all disputed areas under the control of the Iraqi government. Iraqi forces recaptured the major oil city of Kirkuk from the Kurds on 15 October 2017.

The central government was acting in response to the Kurdish referendum on independence that showed a desire to secede from Iraq. In the Kurdish region, popular opinion was beginning to hold the regional government responsible for losing a large swath of territory.

The largest opposition party demands the resignation of the regional government led by President Masoud Barzani. It says holding the referendum was a mistake. Amid spreading political chaos, the Kurdish region's elections commission decided on Wednesday to postpone elections for parliament and the region's president that were scheduled for November 1st.

In 14 October 2017 a senior Kurdish official says that the Iraqi central government has granted Peshmerga forces until 2am the next day to surrender key military positions captured from ISIL since 2014 in Kirkuk. The Iraqi army said 16 October 2017 it had taken full control of Kirkuk following a major advance on Kurdish-held territories. The federal government in Baghdad said that Iraqi security forces had captured the governorate building in the centre of Kirkuk. According to security forces, troops moved inside the building with no opposition from Kurdish forces.

On 25 September 2017, Iraqi Kurds voted in a controversial secession referendum, amid rising regional tensions and international opposition. The referendum set off a chain of events, culminating in a military confrontation between Erbil and Baghdad. Local media reports that more than 78 percent of the 5.2 million eligible Iraqi Kurdish voters turned out to vote. Initial results of the Kurdistan Region’s referendum on independence from Iraq shows the ‘Yes’ vote won with a total of 92 percent, according to the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission (IHERC) announced on 27 September 2017. The Kurdish regional government said that the referendum result would not lead to automatic independence.

Israel has been the only country to support their independence. Elsewhere, the move has been met with concern and criticism. New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer issued a statement on 27 September 2017 calling on the Donald Trump administration to support an independent Kurdish state. “Monday’s historic vote in [the Kurdistan Region] should be recognized and respected by the world," said the Senator, who has served in Congress since 1981, first as a member of the House of Representatives, and then as a senator. A Democrat, Schumer is Senate Minority Leader.

Those closest to Kurdistan have been the most blatantly threatening. From the north, Turkey has sent tanks to the border. From the east, Iran has sent troops. To the south, Iraq's central government has mobilized its own forces and Shiite militias. It seems that the region is determined to maintain the borders created by colonial France and England after the Great War, which divided up the crumbling Ottoman Empire without regard to local population differences.

Washington said it did not recognise the "unilateral" referendum and urged dialogue and a rejection of the use of force. "The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

International pressure mounted on Iraqi Kurdistan 30 September 2017 after its independence "yes" vote, with neighbouring Iran announcing joint border drills with Iraq and banning fuel trade with the autonomous region. A day after a cut in foreign air links with the region, Iran's state broadcaster said all transport companies and drivers have been ordered to stop carrying fuel products between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan "until further notice".

Northern neighbor Turkey also strongly opposed the vote. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday in a televised speech that Ankara had been saddened to see some Iraqi Kurds celebrating the independence referendum with Israeli flags. "This shows one thing, that this administration (in northern Iraq) has a history with (Israel's intelligence agency) Mossad, they are hand-in-hand together," Erdogan said. Fearing like Iran that it would inflame the separatist aspirations of its own Kurdish population, Ankara has threatened measures including blocking lifeline oil exports from the region via Turkey.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the official ruling body of a federated region in northern Iraq that is predominantly Kurdish, has been involved in disputes with national authorities related to sovereignty issues. On June 2004 the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) transferred power in Iraq to a fully sovereign Iraqi interim government. CPA and the Iraq Governing Council took a fundamental step toward this goal in March 2004, when they signed the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period (the transitional law).

The transitional law recognized the Kurdistan Regional Government as the official government of the territories that were administered by that government on March 19, 2003. The Kurdistan Regional Government continued to perform its current functions throughout the transitional period, except with regard to issues that the transitional law exclusively reserved for the federal government. Specifically, it retained control over the police forces and internal security and has the right to impose taxes and fees within the Kurdistan region.

The KRG’s ambitions to expand its areas of control in the so-called “disputed areas" in the Governorates of Kirkuk, Ninewa, Salah Al-Din and Diyala on the basis of Article 140 of the Constitution are met with opposition by the Arab and Turkmen communities in the concerned areas, but also the central Government has made it clear that it will not tolerate the Kurdish security forces’ presence outside the Kurdistan Region.

The two main Kurdish political parties, the KDP and PUK, maintain their own security apparatuses. Under the federal constitution, the Kurdistan Regional Government has the right to maintain regional guard brigades, supported financially by the central government but under the regional government’s control. Accordingly, the KRG established a Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs. As of 2015 there were 12 infantry brigades under the authority of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, but the PUK and KDP controlled tens of thousands of additional military personnel. The KDP maintained its own internal security unit, the Asayish, and its own intelligence service, the Parastin. The PUK maintained its own internal security unit, also known as the Asayish, and its own intelligence service, the Zanyari. While the PUK and KDP took some nominal steps to unify their internal and external security organizations, they remained separate, since political party leaders effectively controlled these organizations through party channels.

Kurds in Iraq as of 2008 made up 15-20 percent of the Iraqi population of 24 million, or about 4-5 million people. The number of Kurds in Iraq was a disputed issue, and the Kurds have continually accused the Iraqi government of undercounting the Kurds to reduce their status as a significant minority. Iraqi authorities on the other hand have continued to accuse the Kurds of standing in the way of Iraqi unity and attempting to establish a de facto independant state in northern Iraq.

The Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] remains the safest and most stable region of Iraq, although isolated acts of terrorism occasionally occur. The relatively homogenous Kurdish population and the presence of the KSF mitigate the threat of AQI and other terrorist attacks in the North and reduce ethnic tensions that plague other cities in Iraq. Turkish and Iranian operations against Kurdish terrorist groups along their borders with the KRG have not led to significant numbers of refugees, collateral damage, or political fallout.

There were no KRG laws that restrict movement across the areas administered by the KRG, but due to security procedures in practice movement was restricted. Citizens (of any ethnicity, including Kurds) crossing into the region from the south were obliged to stop at checkpoints, undergo personal and vehicle inspection, and receive permission to proceed. Officials prevented individuals from entering into the region if deemed a security threat. Entry for male Arabs was reportedly more difficult than for others. The officer in charge at the checkpoint was empowered to decline entry into the region. To accommodate increasing numbers of summer and holiday visitors, the KRG security authorities worked out agreements with other provinces whereby tourist agencies submitted names of visitors in advance for preclearance. Visitors must show where they are lodging and how long they intend to stay.

Most known hydrocarbon resources are concentrated in the Shiite areas of the south and the ethnically Kurdish region in the north, with few resources in control of the Sunni minority in central Iraq. An estimated 17 percent of oil reserves are in the north of Iraq, near Kirkuk, Mosul, and Khanaqin. Control over rights to reserves is a source of controversy between the ethnic Kurds and other groups in the area. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that the Kurdistan Regional Government area contained 4 billion barrels of proven reserves. However, this region is now being actively explored, and the KRG stated that this region could contain 45 billion barrels of unproven oil resources.

The Kurdish political landscape is mostly about the delicate balance maintained by the two dominant secular parties - the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Changes in leadership for either party set off a game of musical chairs for Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and Kurd-designated national political positions.

During the 2005 government formation, Talabani and Barzani put aside their ideological differences, formed the Kurdistan Alliance (KAL) and headed to Baghdad with all their eggs in a unified basket. The KAL has proven to be a disciplined force in both regional and national politics, with Talabani agreeing to stay in Baghdad and work with the GoI and Masoud Barzani assuming the mantle of KRG President.

Talabani brought a handful of trusted politicos to Baghdad to represent Kurdish interests at the national level. Talabani demonstrated that he is the grand master of consensus building and deal making (nationally, if not within his own party), ensuring that the Kurds are not left out of the national agenda. However, in doing so, there is a schism between Baghdad PUK and Sulemaniyah PUK. PUK is weaker in the North, unable to match the power of Masoud Barzani and his KDP clan. The KRG seat of government in KDP's home town of Erbil has enjoyed accelerated growth and prosperity compared to PUK's home town Sulemaniyah.

As Maliki continued in 2009 to flex his PM muscle with provocative actions like replacing Kurdish officers in the Iraqi Army (IA) with Arabs, moving IA troops into Peshmerga controlled areas of Khanaqin and Kirkuk, using Prime Minister Office funds to establish tribal support councils in disputed territories, and attempting to amend the constitution and dilute KRG autonomy, it is difficult for the Kurds to want to trust Maliki or play ball with the central government (GoI).

Kurds have a strong stake in promoting decentralized authority over government functions as a means of protecting and capitalizing on their hard-won autonomy. The new Provincial Powers Law (PPL) gives local officials new powers over provincial budgets and security, but few were prepared to take advantage of them. The arrival of pro-centralist parties like the Sunni Arab Hadba in Ninewa and Shi'a Da'wa in the South into positions of real provincial authority could make them better appreciate the advantages of decentralization.

On April 20, 2009 the Iraqi-Kurdistan Parliament (IKP) passed a Provincial Powers Law (PPL) which defines the authority of the Provincial Councils (PCs) of the Kurdistan Region (KR) but provides for less decentralization than its counterpart Government of Iraq (GOI) PPL law. The public in the KR is generally unaware of the role of the PCs there, largely because KR PCs have had no formal legislative or budget authority since they were created in 2005.

Following more than a year of debate over how decentralization should be applied in the KR, the IKP finally passed its version of a provincial powers law on April 20. The law came into effect with one change requested by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President and agreed to by the IKP ) seats set aside for minority groups on each provincial council.

Similar to the GoI's PPL, the KRG PPL provides for the creation and election of a governor, PCs, district and sub-district councils. Each PC will elect a governor and a chairman and will be responsible for shaping general provincial policy in coordination with the Kurdistan Regional Government's line ministries. Each provincial governor will have the authority to program a "governorate budget," but the law is vague on a number of details regarding budget execution. For example, the specific authority that governors and PCs will have with regard to the infrastructure projects funded from the regional government is ambiguous.

By late 2012 tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees had crossed the border into Iraqi Kurdistan to flee the violence in Syria. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq was training fighters to cross into Syria, to defend territory now held by Kurds. The conflict galvanized the Kurdish drive for self-determination. Many of the young men in the camp want to return and fight for the Kurdish cause.

In July 2013 the parliament of the Kurdistan region of Iraq extended the term of the current KR President, Masoud Barzani, furnishing him with two extra years subsequent to the expiry of his present term. The parliament also extended the term of the current parliament, from the 21st of September until the 1st of November 2013. The introduction of these two laws, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan stated, will allow the constitution of Kurdistan to be amended in the interim. Latif Mustafa, an MP attached to the Change Bloc, has argued that “The decision of the parliament to extend its term is wrong because the authorized authorities are not allowed to extend their terms and extending Barzani’s terms is illegal and against democracy and we will not recognize it."

Secretary of State John Kerry met 25 June 2014 with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in a bid to convince him to close ranks with the government in Baghdad to fend off an insurgency by Sunni militants. It was the secretary's final round of diplomacy with Iraqi leaders before leaving the country. Kerry's visit to Iraqi Kurdistan came amid a new round of conflicting reports that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] militants had captured Iraq's largest oil refinery at Beiji, north of Tikrit.

Iraqi Kurds saw the June 2014 crisis as presenting opportunities as well as great danger for them, but most were eager to stay out of the fighting. The biggest question was whether Kurdish leaders will seize this moment and declare an independent state – something many ordinary Kurds, buoyed by the territorial gains and despair at the Sunni-Shi'ite violence, said they want.

Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said that while Iraq is an artificial country with many disparate groups living within its borders, “the best solution for Iraq" would be federalism. But Barzani has also made clear in other interviews that it likely will be impossible for Iraq to revert to how it was before Mosul fell and that he isn’t sure Iraq can stay together.

The biggest fear for Kurdish leaders is that statehood will leave them exposed: Iraqi Kurdistan has changed dramatically since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, transforming itself from an economic backwater into a prosperous oil-based statelet. Irbil boasts modern new buildings and a skyline of cranes, all helping to fuel Kurdish self-confidence. But Iraqi Kurdistan had been able to grow for many years protected by an international security umbrella, and without an American military presence in the area, it remained vulnerable.

Although political relations have warmed with neighboring Turkey – the Turks have supplied Iraqi Kurdistan with major loans to help them pay government salaries – and energy deals between Irbil and Ankara have developed apace, it remained unclear whether the Kurds could rely on Turkey for security assistance if needed.

In a reverse to decades of mistrust, the Kurds might find another country supporting their independence – Turkey. It now has a 50-year deal to send Kurdish oil by pipeline to Ceyhan and has been investing in Iraq’s increasingly autonomous Kurdish region in recent years. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced support for the Kurds’ right to self-determination. “The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of entity they are living in," Erdogan said in June 2014.

By 2008 the KRG had developed a foreign relations program and was working to have representation in 20 countries around the world. These offices would help promote bilateral trade and cultural ties. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on 26 June 2014 told US Secretary of State John Kerry that he believes “the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion," citing Iraq’s “breaking up." Meanwhile, Israeli President Shimon Peres told US President Barack Obama that “the Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic."

The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region told the BBC 01 July 2014 he intended to hold a referendum on independence within months. VOA Persian Service reporter Ali Javanmardi interviewed Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government on 02 July 2014. Barzani said "We have not partitioned Iraq, rather, it was others who brought about this catastrophe and broke up Iraq into pieces.... things were not run in a way to make the Kurds feel they were partners and stakeholders in the administration of the country. Kurds were treated as second- and third-class citizens. That is why from now on we will not accept such treatment, even the way the Kurds were treated in the past two months. We are busy monitoring the situation. We have a parliament, political parties, public opinion. We will turn to the public ballot. The decision that will be made will be in favor of the people of Kurdistan."

Iraq’s chances of remaining a unitary state increased significantly with the signing 03 December 2014 of a new oil and budget agreement between the Baghdad government and the Kurds. Building on a partial deal reached weeks earlier that permitted the Kurds to legally sell 150,000 barrels of oil a day through a pipeline to Turkey, the new agreement will allow the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to sell 550,000 barrels of oil a day, including 300,000 from the disputed Kirkuk region. The KRG and the central Iraqi government will split the revenue.




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