Till F. Paasche
The pieces in this special section discuss the wider oil and gas politics of the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI, also known as the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG). This debate has two distinct components: the internal dangers faced by an autonomous region almost exclusively relying on hydrocarbon revenues, and the geopolitical power struggles in the Middle East. Especially when held within the KRI, both themes form part of the discourse on hydrocarbon-enabled independence. Referring to international examples as well as the current regional geopolitical and security situation, these articles will outline the dangers and challenges of a hydrocarbon-induced Kurdish independence. While the authors are international experts in their fields, this collection of essays is compiled from within the KRI and is the output of an academic process initiated by Soran University in early 2014.
As a public institution, Soran University acknowledges its responsibility towards the region while recognizing the dangers and opportunities that Kurdistan faces. Soran University therefore initiated a series of activities that analyze the KRI and suggest possible solutions by looking at both European and African lessons of democratization, export policies and resource management. This process includes the hosting of an annual symposium (held in March 2014), where international experts discuss the problems the region faces. Soon the results of the symposium will be freely available in the form of a report at the Soran University website. Another measure that Soran University has taken is to establish an advisory board that will inform decision makers on issues relevant to Kurdistan's future.
Since the symposium in March 2014, much has changed in the region. The rapid advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS or ISIL) in June 2014 created new territorial facts. While the government in Baghdad lost control over vast parts of its territory, the Kurds were able to secure the lands that they have claimed for decades and continue to hold them in the face of furious ISIS attacks. While this is especially true for the city of Kirkuk, the Peshmerga had to retreat from Singal, resulting in genocide of the Yezidi Kurds. At this stage, the events that took place in August 2014 are not clear and need to be subjected to thorough investigations. If the accusations by the Yezidi community are confirmed, the role of the Peshmerga in the conflict needs to be reassessed.
Despite the tragic human losses, the KRI profited politically. Not only are the Kurds now in full control of their lands; the KRI has become an accepted international actor in the wake of the ISIS attacks. Although the KRI remains a part of Iraq, there is an increasing sense in the international community that, in addition to the central government in Baghdad, the Kurds are a serious and responsible partner that should be supported.
At the same time, the KRI is in an increasingly difficult position, trying to balance its Realpolitik of increasing sovereignty — including oil deals with Turkey — with calls for pan-Kurdish solidarity in light of the ISIS siege of the Syrian Kurdish city Kobane (enabled by the Turkish state). Maintaining economic relationships with Turkey and living up to the pan-Kurdish ideals held by the population, while defending a 1,000-kilometer border with the Islamic Caliphate will remain a challenge for the KRI in the foreseeable future.
– Till F. Paasche, lecturer in political geography, Soran University, Kurdish region of Iraq
Articles in this Section
Oil, Secession and the Future of Iraqi Federalism
Philippe Le Billon
Syrian and Iraqi Kurds: Conflict and Cooperation
Till F. Paasche
Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey: Temporary Marriage?