With 92 percent of voters choosing to seek independence from Iraq, the results of the Kurdish referendum have sent shock waves throughout the International scene. Once enemies, Iraq and Turkey picked the moment to conduct joint military procedures on the Kurdish border; disparate nations such as Iran and France stand united in highly vocal condemnation. Despite the storm of strife and threats down pouring upon Kurdistan, there is joy in the streets.
America’s actions in the region remain unclear. Despite the numerous GOP leaders who voiced their support for the Kurds during campaign season, few politicians maintained their stance in the days leading to the referendum. However, despite the lack of public coverage, American troops have come in mass to the most contested area in the referendum zone, the oil-rich region of Kirkuk.
Since early September, American forces have assisted the Kurdish Peshmerga in eradicating the last elements of ISIS left in Kirkuk. In anticipation of the referendum, the United States has deployed an additional 1,700 troops to the region and sent a total of 13 containers of arms and ammunition to the contested location. Many in the region have speculated that U.S. forces are reestablishing control over Kirkuk’s Al Hurriya Air Base, a former American port handed to the Iraqi army in 2011.
Russia has achieved similar levels of duplicity in their reaction to the referendum. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a recent statement that Moscow respects the Kurds’ ambitions, but believes the dispute over the status of Iraqi Kurdistan could be settled through talks with Baghdad.“The Russian party believes it to be of utmost importance to avoid anything that risks to complicate further and destabilize the Middle East, which is already overloaded by conflict situations,” the statement finished.
Despite the stability concerns, recent oil dealings (which would be classified as illegal in Iraqi courts) between the Russia and Kurdistan indicate a different intention than avoiding instability.
Sources close to the deal told Reuters investments from Rosneft would amount to more than $1 billion. A major pipeline and other infrastructure improvements hold promise to shake up the region’s oil trade dramatically.
While we see aggressive posturing from neighboring countries, including the Iraqi parliament threatening to seize oil fields and airports, the allegedly impartial giants in the room appear locked in on long-term goals. With American troops and Russian rubles firmly entrenched in Kirkuk, there is a good reason to believe recent threats are no more than posturing.
Kurdistan did not declare independence, only announced an intention to work towards independence. However, with a Baghdadi government calling for Kurdish blood, memories of Saddam Hussein’s al Anfal campaign must be lurking in the Kurdish collective unconsciousness. If the diminutive Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi insists on repeating old Baathist talking points, the Kurds will have no other option than to exit faster than initially intended.