This past week there was a discussion at the KRG Representation about Kurdistan and the Middle East after the liberation of Mosul. The presenter was Dr. Dlawer Ala'Aldeen President of the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) and moderated by Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman KRG Representative to the United States. Much of the presentation revolved around a paper prepared by MERI titled “The Future of Mosul: before, during and after liberation. The thrust of the presentation was that the region must be prepared to move forward after the liberation, to include preparation for the handling of thousands of displaced persons and refugees.
The main theme running through the presentation, along with the follow on questions, assumed a relative fast and complete liberation of Mosul and the collapse of ISIS within Iraq. While it is acknowledged that a military defeat of ISIS does not mean their elimination, the process of governing and security must be addressed. Within this context what also needs to be addressed is the future of Iraq, Kurdistan and the final resolution of the disputed territories.
To this end under the title of Pre-liberation it is posited that the way in which Ninawa in general will be governed and by whom must be decided before the final battle of liberation takes shape. The preface to the discussion and the paper are that it is not a discussion about the military operations but the “humanitarian planning, issues of governance, and post-conflict security, reconstruction and reconciliation”. This is where I must take some exception to the reasoning of the MERI researchers.
There are discussions on the need to unify the military command and control or reduce the number of militias, it must be understood that this will not happen easily or quickly and definitely not within the time schedule currently contemplated. History, and I mean recent history, further clouds the capability to adequately prepare for humanitarian, governance or post conflict security. De-Ba’athification, Sunni marginalization and the actions of Shia militias under the direction of Iran are indicators of what will transpire after the liberation. While the initial acts of de-Ba’athification and Sunni marginalization can be laid at the feet of the United States, the Iraqi governments under Maliki and al-Abadi continued the programs and increased their impact, especially Sunni marginalization.
Another distraction is the talk of continuing Iraq as a Federated state with a form of home rule for, not only the disputed territories, but minority sections of Ninawa as well. Attempting to reduce tensions by setting up what amounts to city states will not make government more effective or responsive, nor will it provide better security. Currently the only region of Iraq that could assume federated status or independence is Kurdistan. In fact, it is a federated region of Iraq and currently contemplating independence. Arguments of the papers authors that histories of federated regions failing are misplaced and that given democratic government and true ethnonational populations, small federated regions can thrive. Looking at the history of a region is also required and I feel that any small federated area will be quickly swallowed up by its neighbors.
How does Kurdistan then fit into all of this. It is assumed that the Peshmerga will play a role in the liberation of Mosul and the final removal of ISIS from Iraq, but not in a direct way and without lasting benefit to the KRG. While I do agree that the Peshmerga will not enter Mosul proper, they will be used as a blocking force, they will not readily leave areas such as Tal Afar or Sinjar. This then brings into question the Turks. Turkey will likely not accept any extension of the KRG area, evidence their recent actions in Syria. When discussing the region post ISIS, it cannot be assumed status quo anti-bellum. The political questions that are needed to answer prior to liberation is the final fate of Kurdistan. Article 140 is a dead issue and borders must be established by political consensus between Erbil and Baghdad under international mediation that must in fact be binding. This must be under international oversite as it is unlikely that any agreement between Baghdad and Erbil will not be subject to the whims of the politicians as evidenced by the continuing feud over oil revenues. Arguments can be made by the minorities, Chaldean, Yazidi and others have been protected under the KRG and to try and break up the region into smaller sections will not result in a more protected people, unless the coalition is willing to commit large numbers of forces for an extended period.
The final assessment is that the liberation of Mosul, or for that matter Raqqa, will not be an end to the crisis in the region but a new beginning of a new problem.
Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence and former Soviet analyst. He is a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently he is the President of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington D.C.