Surrender to the victor, not the spectators

Something unexpected given the Kurdish position during the Iraq war, where Kurdistan became a heaven for American soldiers.

Volunteers and Peshmerga forces carry their weapons north of Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Volunteers and Peshmerga forces carry their weapons north of Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The defeat of the Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk and other disputed areas in Iraq couldn’t be more humiliating. Not only because of the Peshmerga’s shameful withdrawal without any resistance, which was preceded by a much more shameful “deal” between a faction of Kurds against another faction (usually called “betrayal”), but also because of the gloating “congratulations” that these so-called friends of the Kurds, who happen to be enemies of their enemies, exchanged with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
What makes the fall of Kirkuk such an extraordinary catastrophe was that we saw many parties on the victorious side, even more than those who actually participated in the battle, and even more than what could normally form a “side,” the West and Iranians against the Kurds. Something unexpected given the Kurdish position during the Iraq war, where Kurdistan became a heaven for American soldiers.
Something similar took place in Iraq just a few weeks ago, we saw such kind of weird “taking sides” in the war against ISIS, when Iranians claimed victory over ISIS alongside the international coalition. Both cases seemed similar as US and France congratulated al-Abadi, and consequently the Iranians, for their victory. Except that Kurdistan is not ISIS, and the Iranians fought their own enemy (ISIS) via their allies (PMU and Iraqi forces), and therefore earned their victory with dignity.
What did the West do that it should exchange felicitations with the true conquerors and participate in the victory over the Kurds? Did they bomb Kurdish posts to force them out of Kirkuk rather than sitting back, afraid to take any step and watching their only ally in the Middle East being beaten by a prominent enemy?
Only rumors that this attack was launched with their “green light” attempt to cover this cowardice with some “role,” a role not even recognized by the Iraqis and Iranians, who must have taken any Western “green light” and thrown it in the nearest garbage can, simply because they didn’t need it. Did they ask for a “green light” to control Syria’s borders with Iraq?
To save face they are obliged to keep repeating that it was the Iraqis that took Kirkuk, turning a blind eye to the Iranian role, despite so many Western reports on it, despite the CIA information on the presence of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Kirkuk and despite the statements of Kurdish politician Ala Talabani regarding Iran’s role.
And the bitterness hasn’t ended, looking set to continue in the future. Maybe – and it is very uncertain – the West will prevent Erbil from falling into the hands of the PMU and Iraqi army, but surely it will continue insisting that the Kurds forget about Kirkuk.
It is a truly spectacular demonstration of the West’s lack of comprehension of Kurdish vital needs. History tells us that neither Erbil nor Sulaymaniyah were, at any time, more important to Kurds than Kirkuk. It tells us that only their mountains, the cradle of all Kurdish resurrections, were much more important than any other “civilized” city, not as a “holy city” as Westerners tend to write, but as a key region that would make Kurdistan a viable state, as the “heart of Kurdistan” that Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani refused to dispense with, even after having received messages from Saddam Hussein similar to those received by his son, Masoud Barzani, from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with regard to September’s referendum, warning the elder Barzani of an agreement being brokered by then-US secretary of state Henry Kissinger to end Kurdish aspirations, known later as the Algiers Agreement between the Shah of Iran and Hussein.
Of course Kurds can’t blame the West for their losses, they were already alerted in September, before the referendum, that the US and Europe were not backing them. The West warned the Kurds of the consequences of moving ahead with the referendum. The Kurd stuck to their plan, only with a huge miscalculation of the possible ramifications of internal divisions.
Barzani counted on Kurdish military power, which was quite significant until the day before Kirkuk fell. It was October 16 that the Kurds realized a third of their army was “untrustworthy,” to put it mildly.
Worse, the Kurds who believe the loss of Kirkuk was due to them being stubborn and not listening to the West are surrendering to the wrong side, to the side that by no mean can be blamed for this loss or be accused of even facilitating it, the side that was passively watching and hoping the Iranians would chastise the Kurds on its behalf.
Most importantly, on Saturday, October 21, the US State Department said that there was an agreement between the KRG and Baghdad to withdraw Peshmerga forces from regions they liberated from ISIS after 2014. Thus, this Western position has nothing to do with the referendum itself, which is the only occasion Kurds didn’t “listen,” but has everything to do with the mere fact that Kurds were controlling Kirkuk. It has to do with Kurds listening to Americans planning to liberate these areas from ISIS, only to then hand them over to Iran disguised as Iraq.
How could this be more humiliating? To see your shameful retreat. To see it led by factions of your own people. To see your allies giving your common enemy the consent, that they didn’t need, to mark the very instant when the region and the Western world, from Turkey to Saudi Arabia, from the US to France, surrendered to Iran.
Kurds, too, will probably surrender, to save themselves and their unity, but it is imperative for them to know to whom they will surrender, to distinguish between who has defeated them and deserves the real credit for that and who is trying to embezzle some of this credit.
The author is a political commentator mainly on Kurdish issues, and director of, a website focused on Rojava, Syria.