The Kurds face the world’s wealthiest and best armed terrorist organisation in Daish (Isil) and are struggling to cope with a 20% increase in its population through a massive influx of desperate refugees and internally displaced people in just a few months.
The majority of the internally displaced people are Arab Iraqis but Baghdad won’t even send them their ration entitlements and the new Prime Minister has so far refused to even visit them in solidarity.
Baghdad has refused all this year to make any budget payments to the Kurds who are financing their existential struggle with loans from businesses and neighbours.
Baghdad also continues to block Kurdish oil exports, although these revenues are even more vital to cash-strapped Kurdistan. The peshmerga, no translation is necessary any more, may hold the line against Daish but Baghdad has refused to either pay them or equip or train them for over a decade.
They have relatively ancient military equipment in a confrontation with Daish, which has stolen some of the best and most sophisticated American weaponry there is. New and better arms are being sent but, even here, that is subject to vetoes and delays by Baghdad.
Baghdad is seeking to squeeze the Kurds in an economic war. It is futile. Whatever the misery and deprivations caused by this blockade, the Kurds will never bow the knee to Baghdad. In fact, it makes their resolve even stronger for either a fresh start in the fair and full federalism they have long been promised, some form of confederation or independence.
Nothing surprises me about Baghdad’s actions, which are par for the course for nearly a century in which the Kurds have been looked down on as ignorant and deplorable smugglers – “tinkers” comes near to what that means for many Arab Iraqis – but the real shock is that the international community is completely ignoring Baghdad’s efforts to cajole and coerce the Kurds.
It is understandable that internal forces and external friends of Iraq insisted on the departure of the former Prime Minister Maliki whose grossly sectarian and savage repression of the Sunnis drove many into the arms of Daish. He just had no ability to make Baghdad an attractive partner for the Sunnis who perceive the Debaathification policy as solely directed against them.
The Kurds have made it absolutely plain that their support for and participation in the new government in Baghdad is conditional on moves to end the economic blockade. They have given Abadi three months to make a move. Such a tight deadline would be unreasonable if it were not for the fact that the Baghdad has a decade long policy of promising change and never implementing it. The deadline is due in early December and should be taken most seriously by all foreign governments.
It may well be that there is a great deal of private diplomatic action behind the scenes urging Baghdad to make a move with guaranteed timetables in a reasonable give and take. Some look at the characters of those who hold key positions in Baghdad and conclude that a sequenced series of actions is possible.
But the Kurds are neither prepared nor should they be expected to merely wait for this to happen. Baghdad must be placed under serious and public pressure to do the right thing by the deadline or know that the world will understand that there will be serious consequences as the Kurds conclude that Baghdad will always break its vows.
Many Kurds looked to Scotland to go for independence for obvious reasons. The comparison is inexact but the one clear similarity is that the people of Scotland decided to stay with the UK once its political leaders cottoned on to the looming loss of the Union. They realised that threats and warnings of pain were counter-productive compared to straightforward emotional pleas to stay together. If Baghdad wants the Kurds to remain part of an Iraq, they could follow suit and undertake some love bombing rather than punitive blockades. Baghdad has a choice to make in the next few weeks or the Kurds will surely make one themselves.
Gary Kent is the Director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and writes in a personal capacity.