Independence is at the forefront of Kurdish minds as they seek to consolidate recent territorial gains in northern Iraq while keeping Sunni jihadists at bay, Kurdistan journalists told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“Kurdistan will separate from Iraq, that is for sure, but the big question is when,” said Ari Aram, editor of the Ekurd.net website.
Asserting that “Kurdistan needs people like former Israeli premiers Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion – brave patriots, honest, and non-corrupted leaders,” he said that Kurds wanted to have a democratic state like Israel.
When Israel declared independence, he said, it was a poor land with strong enemies everywhere, and it still went ahead and established a state.
He argued that the Barzani clan that rules Kurdistan has “the historic responsibility to declare independence.”
Aram explained that Iraq had already been divided long before this latest crisis and that Iraqi Kurdistan “already acts like a sovereign state.”
Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, told the BBC in a report published Tuesday that he believed the country would break up and that Sunni radicals would continue to make territorial gains.
Barzani said it would be “almost impossible” to return to the way things were before the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group took the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
“Iraq’s disputed areas, including oil-rich Kirkuk, are under Kurdish control,” noted Aram, adding that even if not all the gains were retained, it was a “great political card” to leverage in order to declare independence.
Nonetheless, he was aware that a future Kurdish state would be at the mercy of Turkey, which would serve as its only way to export oil.
Aram complained that the Kurds had the most corrupt politicians in the Middle East, and said no one knew where the 17 percent of Iraq’s oil revenue that they were supposed to be receiving was disappearing.
London-based senior Ekurd.net writer Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel told the Post by email that “it is no secret that the dreams of the Kurds have always started and finished [with] an independent homeland.”
The timeline has “been greatly accelerated with the new crisis in Iraq,” he said. “They [the Kurds] gained nothing but genocide and repression under [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam [Hussein], and they have little to gain now as part of an Iraq with a vicious cycle of violence and sectarian warfare that the Kurds want little to do with.”
Ismaeel asserted that “the booming, stable, and prosperous Kurdistan region was a reflection of anything but Iraq,” adding that one of the “missing ingredients that the Kurds have worked hard to bridge” was to gain independent oil revenue and not be dependent on Baghdad.
The current ISIS onslaught enables the Kurds to “press ahead and increase oil exports,” he said.
“The Kurds may well fasttrack their push to independence,” he continued, but for now they are willing to patiently consolidate their new expanded territories.
Even Turkey, which has traditionally been a staunch opponent of Kurdish nationalism, “has come to realize that not only is Kurdish independence a natural path that ultimately cannot be stopped,” but it could provide a potential strategic partner in the tumultuous Middle East.
Ali Omer, a journalist from Iraqi Kurdistan who works for the Kurdistan News website, told the Post that the situation on the ground was very bad, because the Iraqi police could not control the terrorist groups.
Asked if relations with Israel would be more open if Kurdistan gained independence, Omer responded in the affirmative, saying relations would be more open with other countries as well.
Asked about Kurdistan’s ability to defend itself against ISIS, he said that in his opinion, it could protect its interests. Refugees fleeing to Kurdistan are being aided with food and clothing, he added.
Separately Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah referred to the crisis in Iraq and said that because of the efforts of his organization, ISIS had not reached Beirut.
“If we had not intervened in Syria at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way... ISIS would now be in Beirut,” Lebanese newspaper As-Safir quoted him as telling a meeting of party backers on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, ISIS is trying to gain the confidence of the residents of Mosul, offering them more security, cheap power and water, the London-based Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported on Tuesday. The release of Sunni prisoners was also a popular move in the Sunni-dominated city.
Reuters contributed to this report.