Abadi Downsizes, Disempowers Kurdistan, Backed by Turkey & Iran

Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi is working to a comprehensive agenda for bringing Kurdistan to heel by downscaling its army, closing its sources of revenue and reducing the semiautonomous status it gained as the Kurdish Regional Government, after the Americans toppled the dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

This plan is unfolding in the following steps:

  1. Baghdad is choking off Kurdistan’s access to the outside world by taking over all of Iraq’s border crossings, including those running through Kurdistan. The Iraqi government has also moved in on the international sections of the region’s two main airports at Irbil and Sulaymaniyeh.

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the Ibrahim Khalil Border Crossing between Iraq and Turkey passed from Kurdish hands to the central government in Baghdad. This transfer hit Kurdistan in its economic jugular, since it included control of the Kurdish oil pipeline that connects Iraq’s northern oilfields around Kirkuk to the Turkish Ceyhan oil terminal on the Mediterranean. The pipeline passes west of the border gate before entering Turkey. Having lost control of most of the oil and the customs dues yielded by that crossing, the region has been stripped of most of the income that gave it a quarter of a century of economic independence.

  1. The Kurds’ Peshmerga army was told to either join national Iraqi security forces or be reduced to a small local militia. Abadi says its claim of 300,000 men under arms is much inflated. He maintains that the actual fighting force is small and the rest draw wages but stay at home. For that reason, he said, the Peshmerga were unequal to defending the KRG’s borders against ISIS in 2014 or fighting off the Iraqi army and Shiite militia assault in October 2017.
  2. With Kirkuk and most of its oil fields in Iraqi federal hands, Baghdad been able to take over the sharing out oil revenues. Until now they were split half and half between Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization and the KRG. Now Kurdistan’s share will be slashed to 20 percent – or 25 percent at best

Abadi warned the KRG that it will not be allowed to become a “bottomless well” for federal funds. Kurdish government expenditure would be audited in the same way as government spending in Baghdad.

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, oil began flowing again from the Kurdish region to the Ceyhan oil terminal in Turkey. The amount was not immediately released.

The Iraqi prime minister is confident of getting his way thanks to at least one major advantage, which is the deep rift in the Kurdish community and the active infighting among its leaders. After the Peshmerga’s catastrophic defeat earlier this month, the rival factions hit on each other as responsible for that defeat. Some stormed parliament in Irbil and government offices in other towns, including some in Duhok province, in protest against Masoud Barzani’s decision to step down as president on Nov. 1.

Protesters also lampooned the Peshmerga for failing to fight when attacked by the Iraqi army and the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia, calling them “foxes outside home and lions at home.”

An informal forum set up by the United States, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia is deliberating the KRG’s future with the immediate object of averting civil war between Baghdad and the Kurds. They have decided that the peaceful transfer of Kurdistani rule to the federal government in Baghdad is the best solution.

Teheran is also celebrating its benefits from the anti-KRG operation:

One is the pro-American Barzani’s resignation and another is the takeover of Kurdish-held border crossings to by the Iraqi army and the Shiite militias, behind which Soleimani pulls the strings.

On Saturday, Oct. 28, they forced the Kurds to relinquish the Faysh Khabur border crossing to Syria in the north, thereby bringing this strategic crossing under direct Iranian Revolutionary Guards control.

Thus far, the Iraqi government and Its Iranian backers have achieved four major strategic goals:

  • Iraqi and Syrian Kurds have lost their overland link, which means that the Syrian YPG and Peshmerga can no longer rush to each other’s aid if needed.
  • Kurdistan’s 5.5 million inhabitants are cut off from their outlets to the outside world.
  • The American army has lost its only overland supply line to its forces in Syria and can henceforth only deliver supplies by air.
  • Iran has completed its free overland bridge to Syria via Iraq.
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