ISIS Crisis and Future Scenarios for Iraq

Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview with Ja'far Haghpanah

The most important development that has taken place in the course of the ongoing violent turmoil in Iraq has been an effort made by the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to become independent of the central government. In line with this development and after Peshmerga forces secured their grip over the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan Region, announced that the time has come for the Iraqi Kurds to determine their own destiny. The announcement evoked various reactions at domestic, regional and international levels. The crisis in Iraq, ambiguous policies pursued by certain Kurdish groups, and interactions between Tehran and Arbil (capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan Region) have been discussed in an interview with Dr. Ja'far Haghpanah, an assistant professor of regional studies at the University of Tehran. Haqpanah, who has been present in and conducted extensive studies on the Kurdish regions of Iraq, believes that despite some forms of divergence, which result from historical reasons, Kurds have been consistently historical allies of Iraqi Shias and can avail themselves of the amenities of an integrated and unified Iraq where broad-based participation in political affairs will be possible for all ethnic groups. The full text of the interview follows.

Q: After the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) made headways in Iraq, some Kurdish currents adopted a different approach from that taken by the government of [the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Al-Maliki. If Kurdistan was an ally to the central government following the fall of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, why they have easily decided to distance from Baghdad now?

A: There are many reasons for this situation, the most important of which is related to the efficiency of Maliki’s government. In Iraq, like all other rentier states, which are awash with hefty oil revenues, financial corruption is widespread. In addition, due to lack of enough experience with governance, the ruling elites and political groups that have been running the country since 2003, have added to inefficiency of the central government as a result of which the government has not been able to give a proper response to a great many of people’s demands. On the other side, no major steps were taken for the establishment of a broad-based government. For example, Iraqi Kurds demanded the implementation of Article 140 to determine the fate of disputed regions, whose fate should have been determined through referendum. However, they failed to have their demand met and it was gradually forgotten in the course of time. The issue of dividing oil revenues has also added fuel to these disputes. As a result and in protest to independent export of oil from Kurdish regions by Kurdistan Regional Government from early 2014, the central government embarked on cutting the region’s 17-percent share of the country’s oil revenues. The behavior of political figures like [the former Iraqi president,] Jalal Talabani, who was a key figure in mediation between the two sides, served as a catalyst in this process. Of course, fertile grounds for this situation were already extant because the Iraqi nation has never had a common national identity and the process of nation-state building has been always dictated from above and implemented under pressure from the central government. Therefore, any time that this pressure has been slackened, the centrifugal forces have taken center stage to push with their radical demands.

Q: Some regional political circles are worried about the disintegration of Iraq at the end of the ongoing debates. Is this scenario really possible for Iraq?

A: Perhaps, it would be better to discuss the existing trend instead of future outlook. The existing trend shows that the civil war in Iraq will continue unabated and will even evolve into more political dimensions as a result of which all major political players will have to clearly delineate their relationship with this crisis. The ISIS, however, is not likely to be able to capture more land. Kurds, on the other side, will not allow them to infringe upon their territory. In the meantime, the Iraqi government is also unlikely to be able to totally repel the threat of the ISIS in the foreseeable future. As a result of this situation, the disintegration of Iraq is possible to take place in practice. At present, the process of forming a new government has been facing serious obstacles in Baghdad. Anything that may happen in the country which would ignore the demands of Kurds, Sunnis, and even dissident Shias, would be actually only an agreement on paper. The most prominent evidence to this situation is the demand by the country’s Kurdish regions to become independent of the rest of Iraq.

Q: What efforts have been made by Iran to prevent further escalation of this dispute? What was the result of a recent visit to Tehran by [the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Nechervan] Barzani?

A: Mr. Nechervan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, paid a visit to Iran during the early days after the ISIS crisis began in the country. There is nothing new with such visits. Since the early 1980s and during the eight-year war [between Iran and Iraq] close relations have developed between officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Iran, which can foster a common language and understanding between the two sides when dealing with this crisis. As a result of this understanding, new grounds will be also provided for more interaction between Tehran and Arbil.

It should be noted that despite some degree of divergence and certain differences that emanate from historical reasons, Kurds in Iraq are still good historical allies for the country’s Shias and can take advantage of the amenities of an integrated and unified Iraq in which all ethnic groups can take part in the political process. In that case, Kurds can also take advantage of a unified Iraq when faced with threats posed to them by radical currents. They can also avail themselves of economic exchanges with the central government in Baghdad while also counting on the support of the central government in their faceoff with nationalistic currents and obstructionist efforts of other Arab countries against the Iraqi Kurds. While supporting the demands of all ethnic groups in Iraq, including Kurds, Iran is still considered the most important ally of Kurds in the region and will never forget the memory of strategic cooperation between the Islamic Republic and Iraqi Kurds during the imposed war with Iraq. Kurds, on the other hand, will never forget the history of their friendly ties with Iran. As a result of the above facts, the Iranian-Kurdish axis, which is based on historical, cultural and geopolitical ties between the two sides within framework of convergence and interaction, will remain alive within new security configurations of Iraq and the Middle East.

Q: There is another viewpoint according to which the situation in Iraq is currently so disturbing and gloomy that Iran should accept to cooperate with the United States in this regard. What is your opinion?

A: There are three viewpoints within the US government about the crisis in Iraq and the best way for interaction with Iran in this regard. A newly emerging viewpoint holds that Iran and the United States are facing common threats from radical currents like the ISIS and cooperation between the two countries should certainly start even if over specified cases and issues. According to another viewpoint, Iran has been basically the root cause behind the creation of the ISIS, though in an indirect way, and it was Tehran which provided the ground for the ISIS sectarian crisis by offering unbridled support for the government of Maliki. Therefore, they argue, the Islamic Republic is basically not trustworthy. As a result, the United States should by no means cooperate with Iran. There is also a third viewpoint which believes that in continuation of its operations, the ISIS will pose a great threat to Iran without being able to pose a direct threat to the United States. As a result, there is no need for the United States to get directly involved in this case.

On the other hand, there are also three viewpoints prevalent in Iran about the role of the United States in the Iraqi crisis. According to one viewpoint, the ISIS is a direct threat to both Iran and the United States and the two countries can take joint measures, even on a limited scale, to curb further progress of this radical group. A second viewpoint holds that Iran on its own and through cooperation with the government of Maliki as well as with the Iraqi Shia groups and high-ranking clerics and also by getting assistance from the Iraqi Kurds, can contain the ongoing crisis in Iraq and, therefore, cooperation with the United States is of no priority for the Islamic Republic. There is, however, a third viewpoint whose proponents believe that the ISIS is basically a stooge of the United States and all its actions are a function of the US policies. Therefore, we must finally come up with a combination of these viewpoints. It should be noted that in view of the past experience with the Al-Qaeda and Taliban, it goes without saying that terrorism and extremism will finally force many players with conflicting interests to come together and opt for cooperation. This may be even true about Iran and Saudi Arabia because the threat that the ISIS poses to Saudi Arabia is even bigger than the threat it poses to Iran. Another issue is the spread of the crisis. This means that the Iraqi crisis has rapidly evolved from a domestic issue into a regional crisis and, from this viewpoint, can pose a direct threat to other countries in the region. Therefore, there are grounds for cooperation, even on a limited scale, between Iran and other regional countries even if that cooperation never evolves into direct and military collaboration.

Key Words: ISIS Crisis, Future Scenarios for Iraq, Nouri Al-Maliki, Kurdistan, Disintegration of Iraq, Nechervan Barzani, Iran, US, Haghpanah

Source: Iran Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: Bultan News, IRNA

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