By Farhang Faraydoon Namdar
To this day Middle East has been world’s most contentious region for the past hundred years since the capitulation of the Ottoman Empire in which a power vacuum ensued and miscellaneous cliques, nations and religious sects skirmished over identity and avarices. The winners of the First World War naively divvied the Middle East (Sykes-Picot agreement) regardless of ethnic and religious backgrounds which had defined the region roughly for a millennium. The division was solely a reflection of interests and sphere of influences of the allied forces. Scattering the Kurds amidst four domineering states that denied most of their rights where in Syria they were even deprived of some fundamental rights such as, citizenship. The First World War was a war to end all wars, but because of the wrong decisions made by the great powers of the time, it resulted in the contemporary tumultuous Middle East. The two Middle Eastern major powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been in ferocious rivalry since toppling of Shah of Iran in 1979. Shiite Crescent, initially enunciate by King Abdullah II of Jordan in white house in 2004, he stated that the Shiite expansion should be halted. Moreover, Iran has been trying to augment its Shiite Crescent in Middle East since its birth in 1979 and has found itself confronting the Sunni Saudi Arabia. Their confrontations have emanated in the form of proxy warfare in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Kurds have been exploited as pawns in the epochs of quarrel and war between the great powers of Middle East for centuries, and a Kurdish state might settle many Middle Eastern issues and squabbles.
The Kurds are one of the largest and most ancient stateless nations of the Middle East. Being located in the heart of Middle East, Kurdistan’s geography is excessively crucial in the Middle East. The geopolitical rivalry has escalated in the past decade among Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other great powers. Especially, nowadays with Middle East’s two failed states (Yemen and Syria) and the failing state of Lebanon. Now it might be a proper time for demarcating the borders again. Saudi Arabia that considers itself the leader of the ‘Sunni World’ and spends massive amount of money on spreading Wahhabism and its attempts to dominate Middle. In addition, Saudi Arabia funds the Wahhabi Kurdish organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan and sometimes the Kingdom is accused of subsidizing the terrorist organizations. With the inauguration of the new Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, the tensions between Iran and Saudi might escalate further. As it’s believed that the crown prince is accountable for the Qatar Blockade and the coalition war in Yemen against the Huthis. In early 2016 Saudi Arabia opened a consulate general in Erbil capital city of Kurdistan. In addition, the Saudi Family might welcomes the referendum decision, assuming the new Kurdish State might hinder the expansion of their Shiite contender. Saudi Arabia have called for dismantling ‘Hashd Al-Shaabi’. Moreover, the group is backed by Iran that poses threats to both Kurdish and Saudi Interests and have enervated Sunni political positions in Iraq. Iran is a de facto power in Yemen and unremittingly supports the Huthis and have huge influences in the gulf monarchs especially Bahrain that has a Shiite majority population. Saudi Arabia fearing being engulfed by Iran, would try to stop Iranian expansion by supporting an independent Kurdistan, as Iran has controlled Yemen right on their southern border and Iraq on their northern that close to their capital city Riyadh. Given these Saudi Arabia might be one of the first countries that will acknowledge the new Kurdish state.
Iran has been an emerging power since the Islamic revolution of 1979 and it’s the only country that has publicly uttered their opposition the referendum. Iraqi Kurdistan is an ideal market for the Iranian products and firms. The Iranian government has constructed many dams on the rivers that pour into Iraqi Kurdistan and recently closure of a dam on the Little Zab River, more than eighty thousand and many farms were left without water. Iran also threatens to close its boarder on Kurdistan, however, this unlikely to occur because the two regions are economically interconnected, any attempt to close the boarders would leave many Iranian workers jobless and Kurdistan exports its oil to Iran with a very low prices as low as 25$ dollars per barrel as stated by a Kurdish politician. Iranians and the Iraqis claim that Kurdistan’s cession from Iraq would destabilize and debilitate Iraq that leads to further division in Iraq (formation of a state for the Sunnis). Amar al-Hakim head of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and an influential Shia politician of Iraq and Haider al-Abadi the prime minister have publicly stated that the referendum is a wrong decision and it’s unconstitutional. However, due to the riot and the chaotic situation of Iraq many corporations and businessmen have move the Kurdistan Region, many high ranking Iraqi political figures have assets and business in Kurdistan region. Currently Iran in control of four Middle Eastern capital (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa) and have endeavored to link these cities by construct a highway from Tehran to Beirut and an independence Kurdistan will probably disrupts this attempt. There are approximately 12 million Kurds living in Iran and Iranians fear Kurdish nationalist movements within their borders, incited by an independent Kurdistan, thus a threat to their national security.
Whomever controls Middle East controls the world, most of the world powers are trying to implement their power in the region. Iranian influence in Middle East and especially in Iraq and Syria has grown sharply in the past decade. Unipolarity is almost obsolete and the advent of multipolarity and the power vacuums in the region gravitates more heed. The United State of America is trying to diminish the Iranian influence in the region and the power vacuum in Syria and Iraq have drawn many attentions for example, United States have continuously supported the cantons of Rojava. The United State of America have claimed that the referendum schedule is not appropriate. This because, on one hand, US might want to create another Israel in the Middle East and keep turkey loyal by its opposition to the referendum. On the other hand, supporting cession of Kurdistan from Iraq is not a good idea, this is due to their fear of losing Shiite majority part of Iraq to Iran which contain Karbala, the heart of Shiite sect. If the US is to use Kurdistan region as stronghold against Iranian expansions and influences then the new state might be neo-colony.
Turkey is an influential and a strong power in the region. Turkey’s emergence cold be attributed to Recep Teyip Ardogan’s policies in the noughties. However Turkey is a strong dissent of the referendum and recently blocked Kurdistan’s oil revenues. Kurdistan’s serene divorce from Iraq would instigate nationalist movements in parts of Turkey, as more than twenty-five million Kurds inhabit Turkey. Although, Turkey might want to a butter zone between its borders and the Shiites and Turkey might be one of the first countries that may recognize Kurdistan.
The Kurdish internecine seems to be relaxing and the Kurds must understand that they are on their own and history has proven that only Kurds protect the Kurds.
Farhang Faraydoon Namdar is an engineer and a student of Politics and International Relations in University of Sulaymaniyah. He is translated political books from English to Kurdish. Activist and writer about political situations in Middle East.