Conflicting statements from the White House and Pentagon officials have reached the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.
The KRG and its armed wing the Peshmerga are embodied in a vicious fight against the Islamic State in Northern Iraq. The military operation is funded by both the Pentagon, the central government in Baghdad and -of course- oil revenues.
However, the Kurdish separatist movements have gained speed recently, as they are reluctant to return to the pre-war status quo relationship. Now well-armed and battle-hardened, the Kurdish government (KRG) is seeking independence from Baghdad with the ultimate goal of controlling the oil fields of Kirkuk to be able to finance its own state.
The referendum on independence was sought by Massoud Barzani, the President of the KRG, hailing from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Apart from Baghdad, other Kurdish parties such as the Gorran party, the Kurdistan Islamic group and most vocally the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have rejected the current form of the referendum (which wouldn’t be legally binding) accusing Barzani of simply trying to put his hands on the oil fields in Kirkuk and extending his powers. Moreover, Baghdad itself is reluctant to let the oil fields slip between its hands.
Internal Kurdish politics might jeopardise the long-sought independence movements. Moreover, there are opponents of Barzani’s policies both from Baghdad, which wants to remain the key power player, and outside of the country.
The current US Congress’ Armed Services Committee published a report stating that future support to the KRG will only continue if Erbil continues to respect the central government.
USA is reluctant to support an independent Kurdistan for several reasons: a government led by Barzani would inevitably continue be corrupt (IS oil even passed through during the height of the war), it would anger key allies such as Turkey and Iraq and the “new” Kurdistan would be landlocked and dependent on the USA and the hostile states around it. It would be a complicated affair for the current US administration. Keeping Iraq and Turkey as allies are more important than let the Kurds have their independence.
Nevertheless, Barzani has yet given up on becoming the first leader of independent Kurdistan and go into the history books.
How far is he prepared to go? Is he willing to risk a civil war inside Iraqi Kurdistan? Even if that doesn’t happen, will the Kurds unite around Barzani to fight against the Iraqi Armed Forces?
And the same matter appears with the Kurdish fighters in Syria : Washington already declared US army will take the weapons back after Raqqa, the weapons loan, and not given, to the YPG.