Iraqis deserve peace, not conflict driven by self-interest

War will beget more war. The Kurds and Baghdad should set aside their weapons and start talking

On Sunday, Iraqi forces moved into Kirkuk. By Monday, the city was firmly under Baghdad’s control.  Reuters
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Last month, The National warned about the consequences of the ill-judged "independence" referendum held by the leadership of the Kurdistan Region, Iraq's sole autonomous area.

Held in defiance of regional and world calls for caution and "far from emancipating the Kurds", these pages warned that the plebiscite would provoke "fresh conflict in a country that desperately needs a long stretch of stability peace". That conflict is now before us. On Sunday, Iraqi forces moved into Kirkuk. By Monday, the city was firmly under Baghdad's control.

Whatever its merits, Kurdish nationalism is, by definition, an exclusionary project that seeks to sanctify the primacy of one group over a territory shared by multiple groups. Nowhere is the impracticability of narrow ethnic nationalism in a pluralistic society more starkly visible than in Kirkuk, a mosaic that, like Iraq itself, has long been home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen Jews, Yazidis, Christians, Assyrians and Armenians. For Baghdad, which has sovereignty over all of Iraq, to accept the referendum's result as a fait accompli would be tantamount to an abdication of its responsibility to all its citizens.


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What constitutes "Kurdistan" has always been a matter of dispute, but even if it were a settled question, a form of nationalism premised on asserting the supremacy of a single group could scarcely be trusted to guarantee the rights of all people. The Kurds have a saying that they have "no friends but the mountains". That has been the case in historic instances when the Kurds have suffered grave injustices, including being the victims of chemical attacks. However, in this instance, Kurdistan's regional president Masoud Barzani has no friends because he, intent on weakening his local political rivals, has assiduously alienated all sides by insisting on the referendum. He has opened the door for meddling by Iran and has incensed Turkey, who has until recently been a strategic ally. Mr Barzani disregarded repeated pleas by the United States, a long-time supporter of the Kurds, to call off the referendum. Is it any surprise that Washington looked the other way as Baghdad asserts it control over disputed territories?

The State Department is now urging peace, and senator John McCain has loudly decried the use of US-supplied weapons to settle an internal dispute when both sides ought to be using their energies to finish off what remains of ISIL. No one should underestimate the danger this clash poses. As the fight against ISIL winds down, there are hundreds of thousands of trained fighters on both sides and no demilitarisation plan in sight. It would be unpardonable for the two sides to occupy themselves with a civil war when what Iraq needs is stability. Kurdish politician Barham Salih said in a recent television interview: "what was taken by blood will be returned by blood". War begets more war; this is its reality. There will be no winners. Bloodshed caused by terrorism is ebbing in Iraq, thanks to the sacrifices of Iraqis of all ethnicities. What the country needs right now is bold vision and united leadership, not shooting wars for political gain. For the sake of Iraq and all its people, both sides must set aside their egos and start talking.

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