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It’s time we contemplated the possibility of a post-conflict Kurdistan

21 August 2014

There’s a  curious aspect to the debate – or what passes for it – about Britain getting involved in military action against the Islamic State. Isabel Hardman put her finger on it in her piece in this week’s magazine, identifying the defeat of the PM’s bid to take action in Syria for his reluctance to take military action now in Iraq. As she says:

‘This post-Syria timidity frustrates many of Cameron’s own MPs. Even under the new leadership of Michael Gove, the Tory whips made no efforts to sound out backbenchers on where they stand on a British response to the so-called Islamic State’s brutal campaign in Iraq. If they did, they might find that some of those who spoke out against action last year are far more hawkish now.’

Well, I fall into just that category, having been vehemently against British involvement in Syria and equally vehemently in favour of taking action in Iraq, so perhaps I might explain why the issues are not just separable, but different.

I was against when it came to the Commons vote for military intervention in Syria because it would have committed Britain to regime change: that ol’ Pottery Barn rule of Colin Powell’s – if you break it, you own it. Just like Iraq. And even prior to the vote in parliament it was pretty obvious that the situation in Syria was complex; there was disunity among the Syrian opposition and a troubling element of Islamic fundamentalism within its supporters. I respected the government people who assured me that they knew exactly whom weapons would be going to – the nice pluralistic liberals – and would ensure they wouldn’t go anywhere different; I just didn’t believe them.


Given what a hash that came even of intervention in Libya, which was about as straightforward as these things are possible to be, there were genuine concerns that if Western support for the anti-Assad forces did result in his overthrow, well, the upshot might not necessarily be an improvement: brutal dictatorship replaced by anarchy in which Islamism would flourish. This, mind you, was before we even heard about Isis. Had we got involved, I’m not sure William Hague’s reputation as Foreign Secretary would be as rosy as it now is.

Iraq is another story, isn’t it? By intervening against Islamic State we are taking sides against a force that even the most febrile Islamophobe could hardly have made up: genocidal, in the strict sense of the word, for the poor Yazidis; brutal and repressive for the remnants of the Christians who’ve been there since apostolic times; a menace to every Muslim who doesn’t conform to their own version of Islam. Prior to US airstrikes they had already taken Iraq’s second city and its central bank; even now they’re alarmingly close to Baghdad. I can’t, in fact, think of a single reason not to support US air strikes, drone strikes, intelligence assistance and special forces intervention, against them. Their war aim of a transnational caliphate is contrary to every Western interest. And let’s not get distracted by the tiresome boots on the ground argument; there are already boots on the ground belonging to the admittedly useless Iraqi army and the reasonably competent Kurds; Western intervention can transform their operations. The price is of course being paid by unfortunate Western captives – the second US journalist awaiting execution is, I fear, beyond hope – but that’s not really a case, is it? In fact, I can’t think of a single good argument against limited involvement.

There is in fact only one issue that parliament should actually be thinking about and that’s the implications for the present conflict for a unitary Iraqi state. Given the hopeless incompetence and sectarianism of the US backed regime of Nouri al Maliki for the last decade, notwithstanding his hasty replacement, and the risible incompetence of the  Iraqi army who effectively equipped the IS with the finest US weaponry when they ran from Mosul, besides endowing it with the resources of the Iraqi central bank – I’m not sure that if I were Kurdish, I’d be in any hurry to put myself back under Baghdad control. Even before this, Christians and other minorities were safer in Kurdish territory than elsewhere in Iraq. It’s time we contemplated, quite seriously, the possibility of a post-conflict Kurdistan. It would mean changing the borders of Iraq; it would mean infuriating Turkey, but it’s looking increasingly like reality. What’s the government’s stance on that, then? Or that of the US, whose responsibility for the condition of Iraq is embarrassingly obvious.

Actually, did I say, there’s only one issue that MPs need debate? Make that two. We were, frankly, taken unawares when Isis captured Mosul. While the then Foreign Secretary was, quite legitimately and laudably, raising concerns about violence against women in war this brutal and frightening force was advancing on Iraq’s second city. When they took it we were baffled at the astonishing advance of a force that most of us, if we’re honest, had never heard of. That’s worrying if you like.

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  • Roger Hudson

    ” …infuriating Turkey..” You mean another huge war, Turkey is an over-armed behemoth and I doubt if Britain wants to tangle with them. Kick them out of NATO,yes. Set Israel on them,yes. But no British troops fighting Turkey, well ok just kicking them out of Cyprus, where the treaty of Lausanne said they should never be anyway.

  • Mark McIntyre

    Kurdistan – our chance to put right a wrong of our own making – one hundred years ago (Sykes-Picot).
    Only the native people of any given area of this world should decide the boundaries of their lands. This may require the help of third parties (the UN ?), but, it must a right of all nationalities to have their own nation.
    Time for the United Nations and perhaps the Arab league ? – to put their reputations ‘on the lines’ !

  • Sean Lamb

    “What’s the government’s stance on that, then?”
    LOL – what is the government’s stance? The government is fully, whole-heartedly and unambiguously committed to a united Iraq. Meanwhile USUK only bombs ISIS when it infringes against the Kurds and smirks when they strike south.
    I don’t see why everyone thinks the Kurds are so wonderful. The minute the Americans created a safe zone in 1991 they immediately commenced a brutal fratricidal war against each other which caused more destruction than Saddam Hussein ever did. At one point one side invited Saddam’s army to attack the other.
    The fact that minorities are marginally safer in Kurdistan is more due to the fact that they simply refuse to allow anyone who doesn’t speak Kurdish across the internal border. While minorities are not subjected to genocide they are preferentially targeted in opportunistic looting and murders.
    The Kurdish secret police are particularly nasty, thuggish and controlling. Kurdish society is rife with corruption, skimming-off and crime and my own general experience of a few weeks traveling through the area is they were the most dishonest and cheating nationality I have ever come across with the possible exception of Israelis.
    Although I dare say if taken out of the febrile situation of the Middle East into Western society they are as honest and upstanding as the next person.

    The dream of western armchair geopoliticians to make lovely neat nation states like Europe can’t be achieved unless you also prepared to accept the brutality and destruction that went into creating them.
    The Russian, Hapsburgs, Ottoman, Perisan and Indian empires didn’t create nice neat geographical national entities, they created glorious patchworks of peoples and religions. Promoting noxious groups like ISIS in order to generate smaller and smaller national units is just kicking the have-to-live-together can down the road.

    • Augustus

      “I don’t see why everyone thinks the Kurds are so wonderful”

      It’s very simple, the Kurdish fighters protect the faiths and beliefs of others, the IS kill Muslims, Christians and Yezidis, behead people, rape and torture them, and bury them alive.

      • Sean Lamb

        Yes but ISIS is a terrorist army that we have nurtured, armed and funded. It is not an organic outgrowth of Iraqi society.
        Traditional Iraqi society has protected Christians and Yezidis – which is why they are still there.
        Kurdish fighters are more effective in protecting these minority groups with US air support, just as would be the Iraqi government.
        And I don’t think the Kurdish treatment of minorities – beyond not burying them alive – is all that good really.

      • Kareem Ali

        Excuse me Brother, We kurds respect every faiths and beliefs, we are different From all muslims, we respect israel, we love europe, usa… and as you know we did not take the religion of terror “islam ” but our grandfathers obliged to get it …

  • Roger Hudson

    Kurdistan, that’s the outfit that Turkey, our supposed ally (why? oh yes, to get NATO on the soviet border), have been fighting for decades. The moral case for Kurdish independence has been obvious for decades , before Gulf War1 , but the practicalities will be complex.

    • Augustus

      After twelve years as premier of Turkey the presidency is the only way that Erdogan could have kept political power in his hands for another decade. Last week he managed to win the presidential election. As Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy in recent years has been nothing short of disastrous, there is little cause to celebrate that fact. IS jihadists are sowing death and destruction in Iraq and Syria, Hamas’ rockets forced Israel to intervene in Gaza, and Iran continues with its nuclear weapons programme. And all these troubling happenings have, at one time or another, been further aggravated by the politics of Erdogan. Turkey has become for the jihadists in Syria what Pakistan was for Afghanistan a decade ago. Erdogan also played a sinister and anti-Western role with Iran. While the United States put global financial pressure on Iran in order to force Tehran to dismantle its atomic programme, one of the Turkish State-owned banks, Halk Bank, broke the sanctions by buying Iranian gas in exchange for very large amounts of gold. But now Erdogan may actually begin to regret having supported the Islamic State, now he realizes what a monster he helped create, and begin thinking differently about a separate Kurdistan. The impressive advance of IS may even have convinced him that an independent Kurdistan would be an ideal buffer zone against them.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Had we got involved, I’m not sure William Hague’s reputation as Foreign Secretary would be as rosy as it now is.

    Poor McDonut really is a lousy judge of politicians performance Wet Willy EUnuch was a disaster as Foreign secretary . His EU policy is in tatters (“In Europe and royally rogered by Europe),his pathetic posturing over the EU’s disgraceful intervention in Ukraine which facilitated civil war was shameful and his Middle Eastern interventionism which ended in the Syria defeat was a complete failure.

    He did get some ‘cool’ publicity with Angelina but that was before schools full of African Chriistian girls were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.

    So no Wet Willy EUnuch’s reputation is not rosy. it is positively wretched but McDonut is right military intervention in Syria with its obvious awful consequences would make that tattered reputation worse!

    She is also right that there is a considerable difference between the Syria lunacy and the ISIS threat and the latter may well call for limited British military intervention. It should not however involve troops on the ground. The last thing we need is British Troops being the subject of ISIS ‘justice’.

    Beyond that McDonut is totally wrong. It is none of our business whether Iraq remains whole or not. Haven’t our politicians created enough of a mess in the Middle East? Any decision to partition Iraq is up to the peoples of Iraq! We should just go along with what they decide.

    Finally what does McDonut expect? UK Foreign Office policy is as deranged and dysfunctional as Home Office policy. Neither are fit for purpose.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    A de facto Kurdistan has existed for nearly a 1/4 century. Sadaam couldn’t put them down, and I doubt these ISIS islamofascist rabble will put much of a dent in them.

    • The Masked Marvel

      The “No-Fly Zone” helped just a little bit. What year was the Kurdistan Regional Government formed?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well, that the US’ no fly zone created this de facto Kurdistan should go without saying. And to answer your question, the de facto Kurdistan government can be dated to the establishment of that no fly zone.

        • The Masked Marvel

          Yes, and all of it was essentially sanctioned by the UN. So I say, why not pursue Kurdish Statehood in the UN? If it’s good enough for the Palestinians, surely the Kurds deserve it. No military nonsense necessary. Until it all kicks off afterwards, maybe.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            The UN didn’t sanction much in this regard. It seems to have been a US effort.

            The nearby states mistrust their own Kurdish minorities… in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Iran and even some others, and would rather not see a Kurdish state. The US has facilitated a de facto nation state, but hasn’t seen fit to support it de jure, as it would go against those others. They are sort of like the Palis, as you mention, and neither has a true state.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Why not try to make this happen in the UN? After all, Israel is a creation of the UN (a mistake much of the world has been trying to undo ever since), and they were all so excited to give the Palestinians a sort of probationary Statehood. So why not support a bid for Kurdistan? Forget about military action and supplying arms for the moment. No noise from the anti-some wars crowd, no moaning from the “nowt to do with us” brigade, dispense with distractions about blaming Bush and Blair.

    Does Turkey have the backing to stop it? Everyone knows the borders of Iraq are an artificial construct anyway, so there can’t be much objection there.

    • global city

      Turkey does not need the backing, it has a mighty army.

      • swatnan

        Then why isn’t it taking on ISIS? Because Turkish Kurds will be seeking to join the rest of Kurdistan. Iran should enter the fray and eliminate ISIS.

        • Alexsandr

          great./ then we would have a pan mid eastern iranina state. And the Iranians are nutters too. They have a nasty attitude to Israel too.
          We should not take any side in the mid east.

          • John Gerard

            It’s a tough one. But Iran is the key to the entire ME, the lynchpin. Iraq was zero threat to us, it was stupid beyond belief what was done there. It is Iran’s military, especially its nuclear program, that should have been smashed, and years ago. We spent trillions on a pointless war in iraq, when it’s Iran that should have been turned over – no troops (apart from special forces) just airpower, and let them do the rest.

            now the situation is far more serious.

      • The Masked Marvel

        No, in the UN.

  • John Gerard

    Iraq is finished, done, over, as is Syria. They’re gone forever, so we should stop talking about them as if they still exist, or ever will again.They’ll next be seen on a map as a bunch of new countries. I’m sure Turkey (as will others) will have something to ‘say’ about an independent Kurdistan, though…

    • Cooper1992

      “I’m sure Turkey will have something to ‘say’ about an independent Kurdistan, though…”

      Allowing independence for Kurdistan will be a very big mistake by the West, because Turkey will be furious.

      Around 20% of Turkey’s population (c.17 million) are Kurds and they all live in the Eastern counties far away from Istanbul. The PKK party only recently signed a ceasefire agreement with the Turkish government in 2013, and there are still protests and riot problems.

      Turkey’s ruler Erdoğan is already known for being authoritarian, and in the last general election in 2011, his party won in all regions except the more liberal ‘European’ Turkey and the Kurdish regions. The Kurds hate him.

      Turkey is now the 17th largest economy, and it’s rapidly growing. It’s population will soon reach 80 million. It is being courted by Russia, particularly after the sanctions, and will become such an important country soon.

      Futhermore it is the only real example of a vaguely ‘liberal, Western’ ideology being successful in a Muslim country.

      An independent Kurdish state is not worth jeopardising good relations with Turkey for.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        That’s basically the reason Kurdistan hasn’t been made official. But it does exist.

  • MaxSceptic

    Kurds are not ever again going to make the mistake of trusting the Iraqi state.

    An independent Kurdistan will lead us into ‘interesting times’ as any new Kurdish state will not limit itself to Kurdish areas in former Iraq but will spill over into Syria, and then into Turkey and Iran.

    As a full re-drawing of the Middle East is on the cards, obviously I am in favour.

    But don’t worry folks, these sectarian and religious wars will be over in 2-300 years.

    Meanwhile we should ensure absolutely no immigration from these countries; buy their oil, dates and carpets; and, sell them everything else.

    • John Gerard

      Yep, this is going to run and run, and millions will die. I had more in mind 100 years, though. But maybe you’re right. My contention is that Islam is dying, and this violence is a sign of weakness, not of strength. It cannot survive in the modern world. It’s been thrashing in its death throes for 60 odd years, and will continue another sixty, maybe more. Like a vicious animal that’s been cornered (which makes it incredibly dangerous), it’s striking out at anyone and everything around it. Desperate to survive, it goes back to the good old days, to the original texts – to Jihad – that worked, and took over half the then known world. I’m afraid this IS the reformation people long for with Islam. We’re in it already.

      Unfortunately, we’re the ones who have to live through it…

      • global city

        Hopefully it will collapse like a balloon bursting, just as Catholicism has in Ireland

      • Damaris Tighe

        That’s very interesting analysis, I hadn’t thought of it in these terms before. Makes absolute sense.

        • John Gerard

          It’s certainly not a fashionable take. Many seem to believe the UK will become islamic. And it has no net upside for you and I, as we’ll be dead long before it’s over. Even a kiddie born as I write will be a pensioner before it’s done. But I’m confident this despicable political ideology is headed to the scrapheap longer term – via millions dead.

      • ButcombeMan

        I said 200 years in another post a few days ago, so a degree of consensus emerging here.
        Pity HMG and the swathes of kids doing their analysis do not yet get it.
        The thought that Hague was prancing about on photo ops while this was all bubbling away, I find pathetic and shows only too clearly why he needed replacing.

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