Impact on Issues

? ➃  Short term – Willingness of Iraq to capitalize further on their military victory against the Kurds, notably capturing Kurdish oilfields (uncertainty)
? Medium to longer term – capacity of Iraq to govern legitimately over its multi-sectarian multi-ethnic population (critical uncertainty)

➚  / Iraq strength and international support

➘➘➘ ➂ Legitimacy of Iraqi Kurdish political authorities and parties
➘➘➘ Prospects for Iraqi Kurds’ independence and even autonomy

➚➚ ➃  Iran’s influence in Iraq and in the region
 Saudi Arabia’s influence
➘ ? Saudi Arabia – Iran tensions

➚ ? ➃ Russia’s influence
➘➘  U.S. influence

Syrian Kurds prospects

  Russia’s influence trial in Syria
➘➚? ➃ Middle East Tension

As the internationally abandoned Iraqis Kurds appear to have, at least temporarily, not only lost their bid for independence, but also been defeated militarily, what is the new state of play that is emerging as a result of the Blitz Krieg victoriously carried out by Iraq, backed by Iran, against the Kurds?

After series of clashes and fighting, rounds of talks between the Iraqis and Kurdish forces started, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi ordering a cease-fire on 27 October 2017 to allow for talks.

Previously, Prime Minister Abadi had rejected Kurdistan Regional Government 25 October offer for new discussions, which accepted to freeze the results of the Kurdish independence referendum. Indeed, on 26 October, Abadi declared from Teheran that “We won’t accept anything but its cancellation [the referendum] and the respect of the constitution”. Meanwhile, the Iraqi army and the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) militia backed by Iran carried out multiple attacks against the Kurds on the Fish Khabur border-crossing and south of Erbil.

Although the rounds of talks are ongoing, it would appear that the Kurds have to give up on all borders crossing, even those that were part of their autonomous region. According to the Iraqi army’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanmi, speaking after a round of talk on 28 October:

“There is a need for withdrawal of the Peshmerga to the regional border before 2003.”

On 29 October, the Kurds abandoned to Iraq the three-ways (Iraq, Syria, Turkey) border crossing of Fish Khabur.

On the same day, Prime Minister Abadi confirmed, according to Iraqi State TV that “talks are meant to prepare for the peaceful deployment of Iraqi troops at the border crossings with Turkey, Iran and Syria in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.” This will allow Iraq to reclaim products of oil exports taken unilaterally by the Kurds in early 2014.

As a result, the Iraqi Kurds political landscape is being reshuffled, with President Barzani stepping down.

The main question or uncertainty, on the shorter term is to know if Iraq will remain satisfied with holding the borders crossing, or if it will go further against the Kurds, possibly also reclaiming the oil fields located with the territory of autonomous Kurdistan. A weak signal that could, even though uncertainty is very high, indicate to the least a possibility in this direction would be the Iraqi crackdown on Kurdish media Rudaw. Considering the Kurdish military defeat, and the complacency and silence demonstrated by the overall international community, with the exception of Israel, regarding the Iraqi operations against the Kurdish attempt at independence, it is likely that Iraq will not feel any restraint nor incentive to show restraint.

On the medium to longer term, the Kurdish issue in Iraq will not disappear. The way the Iraqi government and notably the shiite militias, handle the Kurds on the one hand, the Sunni tribes on the other, as well as the capacity of the Kurds to rebound and ally with these tribes will be critical in paving the way for more escalation and unrest. This possibility is however likely to simmer mostly hidden, until events evolve in such a way they will come to the fore anew.

Domestically, Iraq, at worst temporarily if they do not know how to govern properly their multiple populations, emerges as stronger. Internationally, it also won influence as the international emphasis on a return to peace and stability at all cost and on the primacy of oil, allowed it to benefit from the unwavering support of Iran, and to be courted by Saudi Arabia.

The influence of Iran has been definitively increased. Their prospect for actualising their westward crescent to the Mediterranean sea has risen. This is even more so that Saudi Arabia, their main regional competitor, has shown by supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi and asserting their wish to improve their relations with Iraq, that, if competition there was with Iran over Iraq, it would be done by courting Iraq’s favour.

The U.S.  has certainly lost influence, first because on the morrow of President Trump’s decertification of the Nuclear deal with Iran, Iran nonetheless emerges as gaining influence. Second, the U.S. – as well as all countries of the US. led coalition against the Islamic State – has failed to stand by an ally in the war against the Islamic State. Finally, U.S. State Secretary Tillerson’s 22 October suggestion to see the Hashd al-Shaabi militia disbanded and their Iranian support to “go home” was met, on 23 October, with an Iraqi official rebuff which reveals and further means loss of face and influence for the U.S. .

It is more difficult to estimate the impact on Russian influence here, as Russia most probably acted outside public knowledge. If Russia’s objective was stabilisation and primacy to oil trade then it may be seen as having met its goals, depending impacts on the latest Rosneft contract. The signature of a large energy and economic protocol between Iraq and Russia,according to al-Monitor, would be a further indication of growing influence. Russia could also have been operative in discussing with Saudi Arabia and in the Saudi stance, although this is mere hypothesis. However, with a possibly more assertive Iran, Russia may now face a more complicated challenge in Syria, unless of course a behind-the-scenes understanding is already operative regarding the Syrian battlefield.

The Kurds in Syria see their prospect to succeed in implementing their autonomous Federation of Northern Syria become more unlikely, although the specificity of the Syrian context must also be considered. This is probably where the next key events will take place.

29 Oct – Peshmerga, Iraqi army reach deal on Fish Khabur

Iraqi-Kurdish talks make progress despite pending points – Global Times

The Iraqi and Kurdish army commanders made progress Saturday in talks, aiming at ceasefire between the federal and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, but the two sides fell short to agree on some pending points.

Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga start new round of talks, Iraqi State TV says

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on Sunday started a second round of talks to resolve a conflict over control of the Kurdistan region’s border crossings, Iraqi state TV said. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday ordered a 24-hour suspension of military operations against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq.

29 Oct – President Barzani: There was a plan to destabilize Kurdistan

29 Oct- Kurdistan Iraq’s Media and Communications Commission bans Rudaw

27 Oct – Saudi Arabia welcomes Erbil’s offer of dialogue with Baghdad 

26 Oct – Peshmerga beat back multiple ‘unprovoked’ Iraqi army, militia attacks

25 Oct – KRG offers to freeze outcome of independence referendum to begin dialogue

Iraqi PM slams US call for Iranian militias to quit Iraq | News | DW | 24.10.2017

News The Iraqi prime minister has challenged US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over his comments on Iranian militias in Iraq. Tillerson had called on the militias to “go home” as the fight against IS was ending.

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Science, and Security. She teaches at Master level at SciencesPo-PSIA.

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