News / Middle East

Leading Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Futurei
August 19, 2014 8:54 PM
Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Henry Ridgwell

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State group.  But there are concerns a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state.  The Kurdistan Regional Government says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.

On the outskirts of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, traders display AK-47 assault rifles alongside other aging weapons and ammunition.  Business is booming; after a decade of relative peace, the Kurds in northern Iraq believe their existence is threatened by the Islamic State militant group. 

Lukman Qader is among the hundreds of customers browsing the market.
“Just like other people I have come here to buy a weapon to defend my family and my homeland,” he said.  “But all the arms here are old and the ammunition is out of date.”
Western arms

The Kurds’ Soviet-era arsenal is being updated, as several Western countries, including the United States and France, have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
The Kurds have long dreamed of an independent homeland, and the arrival of advanced Western arms could have unintended consequences, says Afzal Ashraf of the Royal United Services Institute in London.
“The Kurdish homeland straddles what is Iraq, what is bits of Iran, and Syria, and Turkey.  And if there are nationalists in the Kurdish Regional Government who want to pursue that agenda with those additional arms and with the additional experience, they could pose a threat to stability in that region,” he said.
This week Kurdish forces, backed by the Iraqi army and aided by U.S. airstrikes, seized control of the strategic Mosul Dam from Sunni militants.  The battle against the Islamic State, or ISIS, militants, is uniting rival Kurdish factions, says Zeynep Kaya of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
“ISIS is bringing the Kurds in Syria and the Kurds in Iraq together, even though the [rival Kurdish factions] KDP and PYD were not on good terms until recently," she said. "Now, the PYD and PKK forces also are helping Peshmerga.”
PKK militants fought a decades-long war for autonomy against the Turkish state.  Peace talks are ongoing.  The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq would be reluctant to upset Ankara by stirring Kurdish nationalism, says Kaya.
Oil wealth

“KRG’s oil exports depend on Turkey," she said. "So the more the Kurdistan Regional Government is increasing its power in the region and within Iraq, the more it is becoming sort of dependent on Turkey.”
The oil wealth has caused friction with Iraq's central government.  Economic independence from Baghdad is a key demand of the Kurds, says representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government in London, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman.
“They [Baghdad] have tried to centralize control of the oil and gas sector, we have of course gone against that.  Where Baghdad has failed to control us, they have punished us," she said. "Since January we have not had our budget.  It is a ridiculous situation that today, Kurdistan is facing the most well-armed and rich terrorist organization in the world, and yet we have not had our budget from Baghdad.”
If Iraq is to survive as a state, there will have to be big changes, says Abdul Rahman.
“Even after [the Islamists] are pushed out, defeated, and we go back to, let us say business as usual, it will not be business as usual.  The fact is that Iraq has to be regionalized if it is going to stay together,” she said.
The future of Kurdistan will have to wait.  The Kurds, the Iraqi army and the West are united in battle against the Islamic State militants.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs