‘A 6-month long winter’ for Kurdistan Regional Government
Since September 25, KRG is in the headlines. There are still 6 months to the elections in Baghdad and what could happen until then?
Since September 25, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is in the headlines of the world news. Disturbed by the process Turkey and Iran are in close contact between themselves and with the government of Baghdad.
Although the screen has been opened up with ‘war scenarios’, it can be said that even the risk of limited conflict is eliminated as well as of war. The probability of war is so weak. The harshest sanction that has been imposed since September 25 when the referendum was held is the cessation of flights from abroad to Sulaymaniyah.
The central government in Baghdad seems keen on taking back the border controls from the KRG. There has not been any development in line with that even though declarations of sending soldiers to the frontiers have been made both by the KRG and the government of Baghdad. While deploying soldiers to the borders causes a conflict risk at best, this also means turning off borders of Iran and Turkey into war zones.
Let me just convey the air and the spoken scenarios in Erbil, KRG’s capital.
Indeed, nobody knows what future will bring and what kind of chain reaction an actor’s manoeuvre will create on the field with many actors involved. But ‘for now’ the following can be said:
- Domestic flights from Iraq to the KRG is continuing, borders with Turkey and Iran is open, oil pipes are open and valves are safe.
- Cessation of international flights has started to affect the KRG. Mainly the aid activities and processes which need coordination from outside the region have begun to be fettered in the region which hosts 1.5 million immigrants and refugees.
- KRG produces almost nothing except oil. Almost all consumer goods including daily food provisions are imported from Turkey and Iran. Because of this, the KRG people have turned their attention to the borders with Turkey and Iran. In short, cessation of flights has created tension, however, if the borders are closed, it is going to be evaluated as a sanction which will cause consequences equal to the risk of war.
- High tension is not at a level to hinder life in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah since the border gates are still open. Various scenarios are in everyone’s minds but there is no panic. People keep going on with their businesses and studies.
- They are talking about the huge impacts of the possibility of closing the borders on the KRG. However, on the other hand, they are arguing that Turkey and Iran also need these border crossings. People of Erbil say ‘We need open borders to import, but Turkey and Iran must export on the other hand’. Also, it is argued that Turkey cannot act unilaterally about the pipeline since all the countries buying that oil will be influential on the decision.
- Of course, another important point is that Iranian businessmen are becoming more visible when Turkey and Iran threatened to close the borders. The rivalry for influence between Turkey and Iran is not just limited to political influence. Because Turkey dominates the market commercially in the vicinity of Erbil, it is not surprising that Iranian businessmen trying to expand their domain in the market.
- Generally, daily life and scenarios that people talk are focused on the borders. However, there are also ‘political corridors’.
Many people in the KRG had said before and after the referendum that ‘Independence will not be declared immediately after the referendum, but a process which will take at least 2 years will start’. It was well known that the reactions would arise after the referendum. In that framework, the statement by the US, a close ally of Baghdad, that ‘they did not recognise this referendum’ after their shuttle diplomacy to postpone the referendum had failed did not baffle Erbil.
Political circles in Erbil think that ‘the US is striving for current government in Baghdad to win the elections again in the spring of 2018, that the process of referendum and the declaration of independence is tarnishing the reputation of Haider al-Abadi badly in the eyes of the voters, but after the elections the US approach to the KRG may change’. Moreover, it is suggested that the US attitude on that issue could influence the government of Baghdad, Turkey and Iran.
Well, there are still 6 months to the elections in Baghdad and what could happen until then?
The people I have spoken to in Erbil do not answer this question clearly. However, one of the scenarios going around in the last few days is the possibility of ‘declaration of a confederation’. If the confederation scenario, which is a step to ease the repercussions against the independent state, a phrase which is for some a psychological threshold, gain dominance, it seems it will be argued about a lot. According to political figures, there is a 6-month winter full of harsh surprises laying down before the KRG.
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