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Kirkuk bell also tolls for US strategy in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 22, 2017

The rout of the Kurds in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk this week constitutes a major setback for the overall American strategies toward Iraq and Syria. The prospect of an unceremonious US retreat from Syria haunts the Trump administration in immediate terms, and it is all the more galling because Tehran is calibrating it.

Clearly, Iran has pushed the envelope, furious over US President Donald Trump’s provocative threats of sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Tehran had warned that US position in the entire Middle East will become increasingly untenable if Trump moved against the IRGC. The capture of Kirkuk by the Baghdad government was a de facto military operation by the Shi’ite militia known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, which was trained and equipped by the IRGC. The western reports suggest that the charismatic commander of the IRGC’s secretive Quds Force, General Qassem Soleimani personally masterminded the military operation – and even prepared the political ground for it.

The US had tried to prevail upon the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi not to move against the Kurds who were its allies. Kirkuk is estimated to hold at least 8000 million barrels of subterranean oil. The oil revenue is critical for the survival of any independent Kurdish state. Evidently, Abadi didn’t listen due to the emergent threat posed by the Kurds’ recent independence referendum. Equally, Iran wanted to finish off the spectre of an independent Kurdistan in the region spearheaded by Massoud Barzani (who enjoys the backing of US and Israel.)

Indeed, the defeat in Kirkuk destroys the Iraqi Kurds’ dream of an independent state and derails the longstanding US-Israeli project to create a base with strategic location. Equally, the liberation of Kirkuk, which is populated by the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen by the Iran-supported Shi’te militia highlights the strategic convergence between Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara in preventing the creation of an independent Kurdistan in the region.

However, the defeat of Barzani in Kirkuk has far wider ramifications – for Iraq as well as the Syrian conflict, apart from the US’ influence in the Middle East as a whole. At its most obvious level, Iran is thwarting the US plans to balkanize Iraq. Iraq’s unity is no longer under serious threat. Control of the vast oil reserves in Kirkuk will also bolster the Iraqi economy. Baghdad can be expected to reassert its authority over the country. The federal government has taken over the border crossings with Turkey and Syria.

The US attempt in the coming period will be to woo Abadi and encourage him to whittle down Iran’s influence in Iraq. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Riyadh on Saturday on a hastily arranged trip with the hope of getting Saudi King Salman to take a hand in persuading Abadi to keep Tehran’s influence on Iraq at bay and to mediate between Abadi and Barzani. The US and Saudi Arabia’s best hope lies in creating differences between Baghdad and Tehran by leveraging Abadi. But the chances of such a ploy working seem remote.

The fact that the US watched the defeat of the Kurds in Kirkuk passively tarnishes the overall American image, especially among Syrian Kurds. This casts shadows on the Syrian situation. The US has been routing the military supplies for Syrian Kurds in Raqqa via Erbil, Massoud’s stronghold (in the face of Turkey’s virulent opposition.) This supply route is no longer under Barzani’s control and the disruption will affect the US’ operations in Raqqa. The US-led Syrian Kurdish militia claims to have liberated Raqqa, but a real consolidation needs the decimation of the residual ISIS fighters present in the region and it may take months.

More importantly, a ‘trust deficit’ between Syrian Kurds and Washington at this juncture will be calamitous. Raqqa is Arab territory and the Kurdish militia’s supply lines are already overstretched. The disruption in American supplies means that it may now be a mater of time before Syrian Kurds seek some modus vivendi with the Syrian regime. If American military supplies dry up, Syrian Kurds will also come under pressure from Turkey in the swathe of northern Syria bordering Turkey, which form their traditional homelands. Turkey never liked a Kurdish entity taking shape across their border.

Interestingly, the commander of the Syrian Kurdish militia Sipan Hamo visited Moscow last weekend. The Russians indeed find themselves in an enviable position to drive a hard bargain over the Kurds’ sorrows. Russia is in a unique position to mediate between Syrian Kurds on one side and Ankara and Damascus on the other. But then, what is it that the Kurds can offer Russia in return? Last Thursday, Rosneft signed a big oil deal with Barzani’s government in northern Iraq. To be sure, the old Kurdish saying has some merit – ‘The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.’ (Guardian )

The main impact of last week’s dramatic events is that the US now has no conceivable reason to continue with a military intervention in eastern Syria. The likelihood is that Syrian Kurds will sooner or later hand over Raqqa also to the government forces. Clearly, the Syrian regime’s march to victory is from now onward relentless and irreversible. That is to say, the best-laid plans of the US and its regional allies to balkanize Syria have also gone awry.

Maybe, there will be a federal system in future Iraq and Syria. But last week’s events have ensured that the two countries’ territorial unity and integrity will no longer be under serious threat. Of course, that has also been at the core of the Iranian strategy.

October 22, 2017 - Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Thanks for a typically great post from MKB! I’m of course pleased by his fingering of the Zionist entity so-called Israel as a (leading) party to this latest instance of colossal Western colonialist failure in the region. May the failures continue until Palestine is finally liberated.

    Comment by roberthstiver | October 22, 2017 | Reply

    • Amen!

      Comment by traducteur | October 22, 2017 | Reply


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