A sense of abandonment burgeons among Iraq’s Kurds

As Baghdad asserts its authority Kurds fear federal government is taking away the autonomy they enjoyed for years.

Kurdish Forces Fortify Frontline Positions In Standoff With Iraqi Forces
Iraq's Kurds are trying to hold on to a border crossing connecting their region to Kurdish areas in Syria [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]

For the best part of a week now, talks have been on going between Baghdad and Erbil, with the presence of the international coalition, to figure out how to apply the former’s demands.

They include the re-deployment of federal forces in all of the disputed territories, which has already largely happened, and the more complicated issue of handing over of border crossings that the (Kurdistan Regional Government) KRG has administered since 2003.

In the late hours of Wednesday night, a strongly worded statement was issued by Iraq’s joint operations command.


Baghdad accused Erbil of backtracking on its commitments and returning to square one. It also accused Peshmerga forces of building new defences and blocking the deployment of federal troops.

The KRG’s ministry of Peshmerga responded a few hours later “condemning in the strongest terms baseless statement by Iraq’s joint operations command”.

The Kurds do not want to give up the borders they control.

Two of them are hot topics at the moment, Ibrahim Khalil, which is the crossing with Turkey and Feysh Khabur, the border crossing with Syria.

In their statement, the Kurds spelt out their demands for Feysh Khabur: Deploying a joint force of Peshmerga, the Iraqi army and representatives of the US-led global coalition.

But Baghdad has made it clear that only federal forces will administer these crossings, as is the case with the disputed territories.

The Kurds want joint forces deployed there until the Iraqi constitution is implemented, meaning a referendum needs to be called.

Baghdad has stated clearly, only federal forces will be present in those territories.

A Peshmerga fighters is seen at a frontline position outside the town of Altun Kubri, Iraq [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]
A Peshmerga fighters is seen at a frontline position outside the town of Altun Kubri, Iraq [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]

‘We simply take orders’ 

It is hugely complicated, and the biggest reversal in fortunes for the Kurds in years.

It also doesn’t seem to be about finding a middle ground, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said that these are not negotiations, these are talks in order to prevent the bloodshed of innocent Iraqis.

That Baghdad will re-assert federal authority over all borders, including international flights, is a fact.

Al Jazeera has been told by many Kurds that they fear Baghdad is taking away the autonomy they enjoyed for years.

The many Peshmerga we ask initially have a similar response: “We are military men and we simply take orders.”

But sit with them off camera, and talk about what’s going on, and you start to scratch the surface of their real emotions.

They feel betrayed by the coalition, especially the Americans.

They complain that the Hashd al-Shabi, or Shia militias are the ones spearheading the fight, with weapons that the US gave them to fight ISIL.

We met one commander on Thursday morning. He tells us militias sent a whole battalion with heavy weaponry to Zummar on Wednesday night, this is around 30km south of Feysh Khabour. 


We have no way of verifying that, but he says their intentions are clear.

They want to control the Feysh Khabour border crossing in order to cut the link between the Kurds in Iraq, and the Kurds in what they call Rojava, in Syria.

It’s an interest in line with Turkey, and Iran.

“If they force you to leave your house” he says, “surely you would fight to defend it?”.

Al Jazeera asks him whether he thinks this will be resolved through the gun, or though dialogue.

He paused for a moment. His men sit around him, listening as we talk. These are proud men – battle hardened and practical.

“In the end,” he tells us, “for all the fighting that has happened, and could still happen – it always ends up at the political table to be resolved.” 

Iraq moves to take key border crossing into Turkey from Kurds

Source: Al Jazeera