Trudy Rubin: Middle East needs new borders – San Jose Mercury News

8 months ago Comments Off on Trudy Rubin: Middle East needs new borders – San Jose Mercury News

ERBIL, Iraq — Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, has an urgent message for world leaders:

With the Middle East in chaos and the Islamic State “caliphate” entrenched across swaths of Syria and Iraq, now is the time to rethink the boundaries of the region. But unlike 100 years ago, when Britain and France divided up the Arab world, Middle East leaders must partake in the process.

Part of the Mideast reboot, Barzani hopes, will be the emergence of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. He wants to hold a nonbinding referendum this year asking his fellow Iraqi Kurds to endorse the idea of independence. (The vote wouldn’t involve an actual declaration.)

Barzani is on to something important that Western nations haven’t yet grasped.

“There has already been a redrawing of the Middle East,” he told me. We were inside his ornate, two-story presidential palace on a mountain overlooking the Kurdish capital. He was dressed in a neatly pressed version of the traditional Kurdish baggy fatigues and his signature red and white headdress.

“If you look at the Middle East, the old borders are only on paper,” he said. “There are new realities on the ground.”

That is certainly the case in Iraq, where the ouster of Saddam Hussein unleashed sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites that has splintered the country. In Syria, the regime’s brutal response to a peaceful uprising has torn the country apart, largely on sectarian lines.

This sectarian strife has opened the way for the Islamic State to base itself in Sunni areas on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border. Without separating Sunnis and Shiites from each other — to some degree, since there are still mixed populations in cities — the killings will continue. Those separations could involve new federal regions or more formal separation. But new realities must be taken into account.

As for the Kurds, they have been dreaming of independence since the 1923 Lausanne Treaty between the World War I allies and post-Ottoman Turkey. That document reneged on a promise to carve a Kurdish state out of the remains of the Ottoman empire and allow this non-Arab ethnic group to have its own home.

Iraq’s Kurds have had an increasing degree of autonomy since 1991, when the United States protected them with a no-fly zone against Saddam. Despite a severe economic crisis and internal political strains, the Kurdish region is the most stable part of Iraq, and has played a huge role in repelling the Islamic State. It has also welcomed minorities, including tens of thousands of Christian and Yazidi refugees.

Barzani believes an independent Iraqi Kurdistan could be an oasis of stability for the entire Mideast.

I asked whether his vision of statehood would include the Kurdish-populated portions of neighboring Turkey, Iran, and Syria, a prospect that greatly unnerves Ankara and Tehran.

“I think each part of Kurdistan within the last 100 years has its own special status,” he answered quickly. “Our focus and strategy is for Iraqi Kurds alone.”

Barzani’s critics argue that the referendum is only meant as a distraction from his domestic problems. And the external barriers to independence are high:

Iraq’s central government opposes independence, as does Iran. Turkey — which has excellent relations with Iraq’s Kurds — is unlikely to warm to the idea now that it is embroiled in conflict with its own Kurds and those of Syria.

Moreover, the United States is still wedded to the idea of a unified Iraq, and won’t endorse Kurdish independence, as the White House has made clear to Barzani.

The Kurdish leader says he will consult with the neighbors, and with Baghdad. “Independence would be based on talks and dialogue and negotiations with others,” he said.

As for Washington, he adds, “If the U.S. will not be against us, will not oppose it, we will be very grateful.”

Barzani insisted that the current federation between Iraqi Arabs and Kurdistan had “failed openly. If it had succeeded, our plans for a referendum might not be on the table.”

Trudy Rubin: Middle East needs new borders – San Jose Mercury News}

    Related Posts

    ‘Shame on you!’ Mideast envoys in rare UN clash – Al-Arabiya

    6 months ago
    ‘Shame on you!’ Mideast envoys in rare UN clash – Al-Arabiya} Read More

    Young Mid-East Directors Pump New Energy Into Region’s Industry – Variety

    9 months ago
    There is palpable new energy emanating from the Arab film world, largely due to a group of younger breakthrough directors finding their way to the fore, as attested by... Read More

    Turkish units pound key ISIS-held town on border with Syria

    2 months ago – RSS Channel – Regions – Middle East Read More

    Bono joins Sen. Graham’s call for aid to Mideast refugees – The State (blog)

    7 months ago
    Aiding countries facing waves of refugees is key to fighting terrorism pre-emptively, lawmakers and refugee experts said in a spectator-filled congressional hearing Tuesday. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and... Read More
    Real Time Web Analytics