MESOP REPORT : Kurdistan should be an equal partner / Prince Michael of Liechtenstein

2 Feb 2015 – An international summit of 21 countries, including the Iraqi government in Baghdad, in the global coalition fighting ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was held in London on January 22, 2015, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Iraq consists, in a simplified way, of a Shia Arab area in the south with the majority of the population, a Sunni Arab centre, and a Kurdish north. The Kurds have limited autonomy in the north. The Sunni Arab centre is dominated by the Shia majority of the south which also controls the Baghdad government. This favours ISIS which has occupied the Sunni Arab area over the last year.

The US-led summit decided on a spring/summer military campaign against ISIS to recapture Mosul and northern Iraq. The US would train the Iraqi army and its allies and would participate in air strikes. It was left open as to whether the US would have troops on the ground.

The only troops who have been successful against ISIS so far have been the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The Iraqi army, which has received most of the international aid and is better armed than the Peshmerga, has shown no motivation to fight ISIS. The Kurds, who are not recognised as a country, have not received enough foreign aid.Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, protested because he was not invited to the London summit although his Kurdish Peshmerga forces are the only ones achieving success against ISIS. They are also probably the most knowledgeable group and are directly involved.

Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani of Kurdistan is concerned the offensive will not be as successful as planned. The Iraqi army remains demotivated and has fewer numbers in reality. It has been trained by the US, but training an army lacking motivation is futile.

Prime Minister Barzani is right to have doubts. If ISIS is to be defeated it will only be possible by involving large numbers of US ground forces. This is unlikely and there will not be peace in the region. The US has tried to achieve this once already. The Shia-Sunni relationship cannot be solved in a Iraqi ‘national state’ which has an illusion of democracy.

So why does the well-armed Iraqi army not want to fight while the Kurdish Peshmerga forces remain highly motivated and brave, even though woefully under-armed.There is only one answer – the Kurds are fighting for their Kurdish homeland, in which they believe. But Iraq has become a fiction. Who wants to fight or die for a fiction?

Baghdad’s Shia dominated-government was the darling of the international community after Saddam Hussein’s fall. The world community insisted on preserving the state of Iraq. This laid the ground for ISIS to easily conquer a large part of non-Shia Iraq. It is now time to accept that the Iraq experiment has failed. The right of self-determination should be respected. The Kurdistan regional government should be treated as an equal to the puppet government in Bagdhad. Kurds are the best allies in fighting ISIS. If and when ISIS is defeated, a federalisation of the rest of Iraq would be unavoidable if stabilisation and peace is to be sustained.