“Baghdad ha perduto la sua bellezza e non ne è rimasto che il nome.
Rispetto a ciò che essa era un tempo, prima che gli eventi la colpissero e gli occhi delle calamità si rivolgessero a lei, essa non è più che una traccia annullata, o una sembianza di emergente fantasma”
As security forces in northern Iraq crumble under the onslaught of
Islamist militants, the autonomous Kurdistan region -- a bastion of
stability -- is rapidly laying the groundwork to become an independent
Iraqi forces have continued to cede territory to an
insurgency led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is
swiftly advancing toward Baghdad after capturing Mosul on Tuesday.
Kurdistan's military forces, known as the pesh merga (or "those who face
death"), have taken over many of the northernmost positions abandoned
by the national army, significantly expanding the zone of Kurdish
"As the Iraqi Army has abandoned its posts .?.?.
Peshmerga reinforcements have been dispatched to fill their places,"
Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the Ministry of Pesh Merga Affairs,
said in a statement.
The Kurds have also recently taken a big step
toward economic independence by deepening a strategic alliance with the
Turkish government. In late May, they began exporting oil via a
pipeline through Turkey, with the revenue set to flow into a
Kurdish-controlled bank account rather than the Iraqi treasury.
economic independence is vital for the Kurdistan region," Prime
Minister Nechirvan Barzani said in an address to the Kurdish parliament
last month. "We will not stop here."
the beginning of the year, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has
responded to Kurdish oil ambitions by cutting the monthly distribution
of the region's share of the national budget. The Iraqi government has
also filed an international arbitration claim against Turkey for
facilitating the exports, which Baghdad characterizes as smuggling, and
has threatened to sue anyone who buys the oil.
badly strained, there is little appetite in the Kurdish capital of Irbil
to provide any military support to Maliki.
"The Iraqi government
has been holding the Kurds hostage, and it's not reasonable for them to
expect the Kurds to give them any help in this situation without
compromising to Kurdish demands," said an adviser to the Kurdish
government, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
The pesh merga say they have not tried to displace ISIS from territory it now controls.
most places, we aren't bothering them [ISIS], and they aren't bothering
us -- or the civilians," said Lt. Gen. Shaukur Zibari, a pesh merga
In his statement, Yawar said, "There is no need for Peshmerga forces to move into these areas."
United States has tried for several years to broker agreements to bring
Irbil and Baghdad closer together, but the efforts have failed because
the two sides have fundamentally different visions for the country.
Whereas Maliki has pushed for centralized control -- especially over the
oil resources that provide 95 percent of state revenue -- the Kurds
have insisted that the constitution grants them almost total autonomy.
conflict has been so tense recently that Kurdish leaders have obliquely
suggested that, absent concessions from Maliki, they will hold a
referendum on whether to declare independence -- a measure that would
almost certainly pass amid an upswell of Kurdish nationalism.
policy of the Kurdistan Regional Government is to never take a step
backward," Barzani said in his address to parliament. "If we do not
arrive at any resolutions [with Baghdad], then we have other
alternatives, and we will take them."
Tensions have also been
aggravated through the years by territorial disputes. In the aftermath
of Saddam Hussein's regime, which waged campaigns of ethnic cleansing,
ethnic groups have made competing claims to a belt of land stretching
across the country as the formal boundary between the Kurdistan region
and federal Iraq remains unresolved.
The symbolic heart of these
disputes has been the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which some have called
the Jerusalem of the Kurds. On Thursday, after the national army left,
Kurdish flags were flying where Iraqi flags once were, and Yawar said
Kurdish forces "now control Kirkuk city and the surrounding areas." Even
Iraqi government oil facilities were now being guarded by Kurdish
forces, Kurdish security officials said. Turkish lifeline
the Kurds try to shore up their territory, they also need an economic
lifeline, and they have turned to Turkey. Last year, the landlocked
Kurds built an oil pipeline to the Turkish border and signed agreements
to govern the export of oil and gas to the Mediterranean; now, crude has
begun to flow.
Those exports, which began May 22, were a
milestone. Although the Kurds have been able to export oil for years by
truck, only a pipeline can enable them to sell enough oil to replace the
revenue being withheld by Baghdad.
In the meantime, the Kurdish
government is staying solvent through loans from companies and foreign
banks, according to Barzani. Two officials involved in the Turkey deal,
speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
topic, said the Turkish government had granted a loan directly to the
Kurds, but they did not disclose the amount or the terms.
willingness to facilitate such autonomy marks a dramatic reversal by
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose administration once worried
that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan might inspire Turkey's own Kurdish
minority to seek a similar outcome. Erdogan was swayed, ultimately, by a
convergence of interests, particularly Turkey's growing energy demands.
Now, with the rise of ISIS, Iraqi Kurdistan also represents a
geographic buffer between Turkey and the chaotic violence to the south.
will use its influence in Irbil to discourage independence," said one
of the Turkish officials involved in the energy deal. "But if Kurdistan
should become independent, then, to put it in financial terms, Turkey
has bought that option."
The question now facing the Kurds is
whether they can hold the line against ISIS. The group has begun
attacking some of the pesh merga's forward positions and nearly killed
the leader of the force, Sheik Jaafar Mustafa, with an IED targeting his
convoy near Kirkuk, according to a pesh merga soldier stationed there.
far, the pesh merga have been able to repel ISIS attacks, and the
Kurdistan region seems to have the military capability -- and the
backing of a powerful neighbor -- to succeed without the federal
Drawn to this relative stability, tens of thousands
from besieged Mosul have sought refuge in the region. Among them were
three top Iraqi generals; on Thursday, the Kurdish government put them
on a plane to Baghdad.
Loveday Morris in Irbil contributed to this report.