In the strongest indication thus far that Iraqi Kurdistan may seek full independence, the Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani said on Monday that the time had come for Kurds to decide their own fate. The prospect is just the latest threat to Baghdad’s territorial authority in Iraq, which has been besieged by a steady insurgent advance in recent weeks.
Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Barzani explicitly cited the crisis in Iraq as justification for his intensifying push:
Iraq is obviously falling apart. And it’s obvious that the federal or central government has lost control over everything. Everything is collapsing – the army, the troops, the police… We did not cause the collapse of Iraq. It is others who did. And we cannot remain hostages for the unknown… The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold.
Though Barzani’s comments are the first explicit acknowledgement that Kurdistan is planning to capitalize on the instability plaguing the rest of Iraq to further its own objectives, the semi-autonomous region has already taken steps towards asserting its independence. Most notable is the push for economic autonomy represented by Kurdish crude oil exports to neighboring countries. On Monday, the region received close to $100 million for the first million barrels of oil it shipped to Turkey and other international markets. This, after the government reportedly delivered millions of barrels of crude oil to a client in Israel — a move that both Baghdad and Washington were quick to push back against.
Along with this economic effort, the opening that the ISIL advance has provided for Kurdish Pershmerga forces to deploy and take control of territories Kurds consider integral to a future state has made the road to statehood more tangible than ever. Considering the current crisis and the clear display of impotence on the part of Iraqi forces in the face of the ISIL advance, Baghdad’s ability to stymie Kurdish independence efforts is clearly compromised. While Washington has in the past backed Iraq’s central government in opposing Kurdish independence, the calculus may be changing as Kurdistan proves its capacity at heading off further territorial concessions to the Islamist insurgency.