Monday 12 August 2013

Iran-Iraq pushing for Syria's balkanization

Barzani and Maliki (top) and a Balkanized Syria map

The specter of Syria’s balkanization has yet to pass from sight.
Tehran has now given the thumbs up for a “provisional civil administration” in Syria’s Kurdish areas and agreed to help clear out Qaeda-linked extremists there.
Fresh from talks in Tehran, Salih Muslim, head of the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD), an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), says Iran gave the go-ahead for a “transitional civil administration” planned by the “Western Kurdistan Council.”
Western Kurdistan refers to the Kurdish areas in northern and northeastern Syria bordering Turkey.
Muslim also tells pan-Arab al-Hayat today agreement was reached with the Iranian side “to fight our common enemy,” chiefly Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Muslim said he met with high-ranking foreign ministry and Revolutionary Guards officials during his August 7-8 stay in Tehran at the invitation of the foreign ministry.
“Iran is an important country. It is the only one in the region to have the ear of the [Syrian] regime,” he said.
On August 10, Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, posted a statement on the KRG’s official website saying:
For a while now, the print media and a number of political and media centers have been saying terrorists in Western Kurdistan have mobilized against Kurdish citizens and that Qaeda-linked terrorists are attacking innocent civilians and massacring Kurdish women and children.
To verify such news, I am calling for a special inquiry commission to travel to Western Kurdistan and investigate. If it finds that innocent Kurdish citizens, women and children are under threat of death and terrorism, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region will make use of all its capabilities to defend innocent Kurdish women, children and citizens in Western Kurdistan.
Barzani's statement referred to Kurdish areas in Syria as “Western Kurdistan.”
Spread over large, adjoining tracts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, the Kurdish people are often described as the largest ethnic group without their own state.
The northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan, which has its own government and armed forces, is pursuing increasingly independent energy and foreign policies, infuriating Baghdad.
Iraqi Kurds have sent fuel, food and medical aid to their ethnic kin over the border in Syria, extending Barzani’s influence, but Saturday’s statement appeared to be the first time that he had suggested intervention.
In Syria, where they make up nearly 10 percent of the population, Kurds have been widely discriminated against under Bashar al-Assad and his late father before him, who stripped more than 100,000 of their citizenship.
For Syrian Kurds, the insurrection against Assad presents an opportunity to win the kind of rights enjoyed by their neighbors in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Quoting from Kuwait’s al-Seyassah newspaper, Baghdad’s Shafaq News reported August 9,  “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki notified KRG President Masoud Barzani that the Assad regime is not against Peshmerga forces entering northern Syria to defend Syrian Kurds against attacks by al-Qaeda.
“A highly-placed Kurdish source in Baghdad said Iranian leaders, together with the Iraqi premier, are putting pressure on Barzani to stop supporting the Syrian revolution and back Assad’s regime… especially that al-Qaeda poses a threat to both Irbil and Baghdad.”
All this highlights the potential for Peshmerga, Syrian Kurd, Iranian and Iraqi forces banding together to help Assad win his presumed war on Takfiris, Jihadists and al-Qaeda -- at least in Western Kurdistan.
Separately, Lazar Berman wonders in his think piece for The Times of Israel this week: “Is a free Kurdistan, and a new Israeli ally, upon us?”
In his opinion, Syria’s Kurds are bent on carving out an autonomous enclave in northeastern Syria.
The PYD “has been taking advantage of the power vacuum caused by the two-year-old conflict to push out rival opposition fighters and move closer to autonomy…
“According to Kurdistan expert Ofra Bengio of Tel Aviv University, independence is not on the Syrian Kurds’ agenda any time in the near future. ‘The PYD is not talking about independence now and will be reluctant to use such terminology in order not to antagonize any of the governments or the international community. Autonomy is the safer goal now,’ she said.”
Berman says “Israel has long developed alliances with non-Arab countries on the periphery of the Middle East. Today, that policy rests on partnerships with Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, and Caucasian and central Asian countries. Kurdistan fits perfectly into that framework…
“With few friends in the region, the Kurds will likely look to Israel to help them gain security and closer relations with the United States. As Arab governments in the Middle East totter and fall, and Islamists look to exploit the chaos, the alliance is one that both countries may find beneficial to pursue.”
This reminds me of the presentation former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made at the Ford School in New York City last June, when he said a Balkanized Syria is the best outcome to emerge of its current Assad-controlled unity.
“There are three possible outcomes. An Assad victory, a Sunni victory, or an outcome in which the various nationalities agree to co-exist together but in more or less autonomous regions, so that they can’t oppress each other. That’s the outcome I would prefer to see. But that’s not the popular view,” he said.
Are Assad’s allies heeding Kissinger’s counsel and pushing Barzani and Syria’s Kurds to go down that route?