Denied Again: Kirkuk and the Dream of an Independent Kurdistan

    Barın Kayaoğlu

    Security, Middle East

    A burnt Kurdistan flag is seen in Kirkuk, Iraq October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

    With ISIS gone, political realities descend upon the Middle East. So far it is the Kurds that have gotten the short end of the deal.

    In a closed-door meeting at a Washington think tank in late July, I had the opportunity to ask a high-ranking Iraqi Kurdish official whether he worried that Kurds might be overplaying their hands in Iraq and Syria.

    I wondered whether regional powers couldn’t reverse the results of the September 25 independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Kurdish gains against ISIS in Syria. As a historian of the twentieth century, I expressed concern that the Kurds, rather than attaining their century-old dream of a national homeland, could be pushed back by their neighbors and international powers as they were in the 1920s, 1946, 1961, 1975, 1988 and 2003.

    Monday, October 16, 2017: The Fifteen-Hour War

    But on October 16, the Kurds’ famed Peshmerga army (literally “those who face death”) didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t defend Kirkuk, which Iraqi forces had abandoned in the face of the ISIS onslaught three and a half years ago.

    Around midnight, an Iraqi task force composed of regular army units, the federal police, the Counter-Terrorism Service, and the Hashd al-Shaabi militia (Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU) launched an assault to capture the oil fields, airport and the K-1 airbase west of the city. As one observer on Twitter pointed out, in the wee hours of October 16, it looked like the Iraqis aimed to capture only those areas west of Kirkuk, not the city.

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