How the invasion of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and subsequent developments will affect the broader region remains to be seen, but it is an undeniable fact that Iraq has already been divided into three pieces. In truth, the emergence of ISIS only expedited what was probably already going to happen anyway. The situation at hand would have emerged one way or another.
The most recent developments in Iraqi Kurdistan, such as the calls for a referendum over the independence of Kirkuk and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), reflect the ongoing process. As Turkey closely follows the developments in Iraq in general and the Kurdish area in particular, regional actors, in turn, keep a close watch on Turkey's take on the situation – which is why Shwan Tavenge, Editor-in-Chief of Türkiyenasî magazine and one of the editors of Xebat, one of Iraqi Kurdistan's most prominent newspapers, has been meeting with observers in Istanbul. While he seeks to gain insights into Turkey's take on the developments, we asked him some questions in which Turks are particularly interested.
What does ISIS want?
"The Kurds do not regard ISIS as a main player. The organization only serves to boost the declining power of the Sunni community in Iraq. With help from Saudi Arabia and former Baath operatives, ISIS works to empower the Sunnis. The actual number of their fighters is no more than 2,000." Tavenge said that Iraq would have experienced comprehensive change regardless of ISIS activities and added, "A united Iraq now breaths its final breath. It cannot survive. It is no longer possible to go back to the prison called Iraq. Right now, all Kurdish political movements, including the KDP, the PUK, Gorran and others, act together with the primary objective of attaining economic independence." He said that Iraqi Kurdistan could serve an important role for regional change: "Iraqi Kurdistan is a highly secure area and therefore home to consulates of 30 countries. Global business giants have made billion-dollar investments and brought their employees there. Our ties with Turkey are much deeper and more meaningful – our bilateral trade volume with Turkey caught up with Germany. One-thousand-one-hundred Turkish companies and 20,000 Turkish employees are active in the area. Iraqi Kurdistan, to be sure, has the potential to become the region's response to South Korea. It serves as an economic and political center, and economic and political independence is absolutely necessary for economic activity to continue."
At this point, I bring up the long-debated question of a referendum and independence, which became clearer after Masoud Barzani's parliamentary address yesterday. Tavenge maintains the following: "The referendum's primary purpose is to attain social and legal legitimacy. The vote will be held, first and foremost, over the status of Kirkuk – which Article 140 of the Constitution stipulated but that the central government prevented and postponed. Right now, Kirkuk already is a de facto part of Iraqi Kurdistan. This situation, however, needs constitutional safeguards. Kirkuk already has 12 representatives in the Kurdistan Parliament: Two Turkmens, two Arabs and eight Kurds according to the most recent elections."
The region's annual oil production, including that from Kirkuk, amounts to 4 million barrels indicating that the economy could take off quite soon. There are, however, forces that do not welcome the prospect of prosperity. Tavenge thus emphasized the historic alliance between Turks and Kurds: "Turkey must keep in mind our historic partnership and see the potential here. The people of Iraqi Kurdistan keep their eyes on Turkey to utilize this economic potential. Turkey and Kurdistan breathe the same air. We desire a strategic partnership with Turkey based on good intentions. People in the region have great confidence in Turkey and the relationship between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Barzani."