Masrour Barzan Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council said in a Washington Post Opinion piece, “It is time to acknowledge that the experiment has not worked. Iraq is a failed state, and our continued presence within it condemns us all to unending conflict and enmity.”
This veiled threat to carry out a referendum on Kurdish independence has a lot more legs to it than most pundits would believe. The Kurdistan Regional Government has been toying with such a move for a while and the growing vacuum in Iraq has given them ample reason to move ahead with such a move.
The question is not if the Kurds will push for independence from Iraq, but when they do, who are the winners and losers from such a move.
Russia opens up another potential partner in the chaos that is the Middle East. Rich with oil, Kurdistan will provide Russia with a stable base of operations in one of the most contested regions in the world.
Israel will find its long term support of a non-Arab entity in the Middle East to be fruitful. For years Israel has provided intelligence, training, and economic ties to the fledgling Kurdish Autonomous Region. It gains a forward base against Iran and direct access to an emerging oil market.
Turkey stands to have the most to lose as they have opposed Kurdish independence from the beginning. Turkey has more ethnic Kurds than the Kurdish region in Iraq. An independent Kurdistan could very well inspire a full scale uprising and secession movement from Turkey’s Kurds. This would be a disaster for Erdogan.
Iraq will suffer a blow it will not recover from. Mosul and the other Kurdish dominated areas in Iraq’s North are potentially the most valuable. Iraq would suffer other secessionist movements if Kurdish independence is successful.
The Sunni states will lose their leverage as Western allies due to the fact the Kurds are far more moderate and likely to generate both geopolitical and financial support.
United States policy will suffer another setback as Kurdish independence is a clear indicator that Washington’s leverage is in decline.