If only the world could have found a way to persuade the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to not hold the independence referendum.
There is no doubt that several problems exist between the governments in Baghdad and Irbil. We know that the Iraqi central government did not fully respect the region's autonomy despite what the Iraqi constitution says. Baghdad believes it is now strong enough due to Iran's support and the Shiite militia that have been quite efficient during the fight against Daesh.
As of today, Turkmens and the Hashd al-Shaabi are fighting against Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces in Kirkuk while the Iraqi military is backing the Shiite militia. Maybe for those who watch these developments from a distance - from a very long distance - this is a fight between pro-Iranian forces and Kurds. In other words, some people probably think Irbil is pushing Iran and its allies out of northern Iraq, which is something important given the souring relations between Iran and the U.S.
The fighting seems to be limited to Kirkuk for now, but nothing says it could not spread to Sulaymaniyah or Mosul in a while. Besides, we know that not all northern Iraqis are in favor of independence, and these may progressively come closer to Tehran, which will not benefit the U.S.
We do not know how many strongholds the U.S. may be able to keep in Iraq and Syria after all, as they keep losing ground. Those who will suffer most from these troubles are, of course, the region's inhabitants. Northern Iraq has been relatively stable and secure in the past years while Syria had plunged into deep chaos. The independence referendum, though, only served to pull this region into the conflict. At the end, it is not Irbil nor Baghdad, Tehran nor Washington that will benefit from this situation.
Maybe one day, and not in the very distant future, we will see an international peacekeeping force in Kirkuk. Will Iran become part of such an international force? It is hard to say. What is certain is that Russia will definitely be a part of it along with the U.S. As for Turkey, Ankara will absolutely want to participate in such a mission. Some European countries, too, will try to join in. Maybe the British will ask to secure Kirkuk while the French demand Mosul. Who knows, maybe with time, they will also ask to have some control in the cease-fire regions in Syria - the French may ask for provinces near Turkey's Hatay province while the British try to deploy their troops near Israel and Jordan.
Does it seem to be a not-that-probable scenario? Maybe for today, it is. We know, however, what kind of role Kirkuk played in history. If the same historical scenario repeats itself, we will not need to ask who the winner or the loser is. It is also sure that the region's Kurds will be among the losers, as they will be abandoned and greatly disappointed while they were dreaming about an independent country.
That is the reason why it would be so great if someone had been able to persuade Irbil not to hold the referendum. But now the referendum has taken place, and it will be difficult to pretend that it did not. Especially when Baghdad is now proposing very hard conditions should the KRG want a deal. Baghdadis are so intransigent that one feels they in fact do not want to negotiate at all. This is exactly how the Saudis treated Qatar, as their conditions to start negotiations were so hard that the Qataris could not accept them.
The U.S. seems to be satisfied about the course of events in the Saudi-Qatari crisis, but maybe they are happy too early. After all, for the first time in history, a Saudi king visited Russia. Under these circumstances, the U.S. will likely keep losing influence over Iraq, and Iraqi Kurds will end up with much less than they were hoping for. Unfortunately, they may miss the days when they were enjoying autonomy in their relatively calm region.
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