Iraq’s Kurdish president Jalal Talabani and president Masoud Barzani of autonomous Kurdistan are secretly mustering strength for a possible pre-emptive move to consolidate their region before the presidential election in the United States.
Recent events have given the two leaders reason for deep concern about the future of the six million Iraqi Kurds who gained autonomy under an American shield.
First, Iraq’s military and security forces, now numbering close to half a million men under arms, have chalked up signal victories in anti-insurgent operations carried out in central, southern and northern Iraq, often thanks to the Kurdish officers and men serving with them.
But when they returned home, the Kurdish troops voiced concern. Shiites form the bulk of the Iraqi army, which is armed and given unlimited funds by the United States. One day the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad may decide to turn those guns against the Kurdish autonomy.
The Iraqi army has thus far imposed the government writ in Baghdad, Basra, Amara, and Mosul and is engaged this week in a major campaign to purge Diyala Province of the last remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Kurdish leaders fear that the oil-rich town of Kirkuk may be next. In their eyes, the fall of Kirkuk to the central government would spell the end of their autonomous region and a terrible blow to their national pride.
Second, after listening closely to the words of the US presidential hopeful, the Democratic Senator Barack Obama, the Kurds are full of trepidation that if he were elected he would withdraw every last American soldier from Iraq.
Until now, they were confident that, regardless of who was elected to the White House, while candidates might differ on the pace of the US troop withdrawal, none would completely dismantle American bases in the north, i.e. Kurdistan. The Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, its logistical infrastructure and much of the region’s economic well-being have drawn strength and a future vision from this premise.
The presence of US bases in Kurdistan was integral to the military guarantee of Kurdish independence Washington promised their leaders in the early 1990s (when they lived under the oppressive Saddam Hussein regime.)
Obama’s avowed policies have given them a rude shock.
Kurdish leaders’ efforts to meet him and put their case before him during his Middle East trip and in Washington were rebuffed. Even the Democratic contender’s advisers turned them away.
Fearing their region is about to be crushed to death in a vice formed on the one hand by the impending removal of their American shield and the rising strength of the Iraqi army, on the other, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources in Iraq report that Kurdish leaders are secretly preparing a military plan for execution before the American election in November. They propose to guarantee Kurdish control of Kirkuk before the Iraqi army has a chance to take over. They will also mark out the boundaries of autonomous Kurdistan for Baghdad’s consumption.
Thousands of young Kurds are being quietly called to the flag, trained in crash military courses and formed into units for deployment in assigned sectors of the region.