LONDON, United Kingdom (Kurdistan 24) – As the post-independence referendum fallout between Erbil and Baghdad reaches a dangerous juncture, Baghdad strives to divide the Kurds through military threats and conditions.
Such threats from Baghdad and other neighboring countries have been commonplace since the Kurdish plebiscite and is designed to stoke worry and division among the Kurdish ranks.
One of the aims is to induce cracks between the two dominant Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
There were indications over the past week that the PUK, the dominant force in Kirkuk, was subject to Baghdad’s “divide and conquer” strategy.
An example of Baghdad’s attempt to divide Kurdish sentiment were reports that Iraqi President Fuad Masum delivered a message to the PUK leadership from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The message reportedly included six demands: hand over of Kirkuk airport, K-1 military base, all oil fields, all Islamic State (IS) militants held by the Peshmerga, allow the return of the Iraqi army to all places where they were stationed before IS, and remove Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim from his position.
This allegedly came with a deadline to fulfill the six demands. Masum’s office later denied he was bearing any statement or demands.
However, Mala Bakhtiar, head of the PUK’s executive body, acknowledged a meeting between senior PUK officials and the Iraqi president took place to discuss the situation in Kirkuk.
Hemin Hawrami, a KDP member and senior advisor to Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani, hit out at Baghdad’s “divide and rule” attempts through the six demands made specific to the PUK that he predicted were “doomed to fail.”
However, a key meeting between the KDP and PUK leadership, alongside Iraqi President Masum in Dukan on Sunday dispelled fears that the main political parties would take different approaches to dealing with the crisis.
In a tweet after the meeting, Hawrami stated that if there are “any negotiations with Baghdad, it [would] be a joint delegation representing all Kurdistan parties.”
“There will not be any unilateral negotiation with Baghdad by either PUK or KDP. KDP/PUK reject any demands to nullify the referendum results. Refuse preconditions,” he wrote.
Hawrami added that the Kurdish parties were ready to reach a peaceful resolution to the current standoff, but while rejecting the military option, they were also ready to defend.
In addition to manipulation from Baghdad, political parties are likely to become subject to regional jockeying. At this sensitive juncture, all of Kurdistan needs to speak and act as one.
While it is vital for Kurdistan to show restraint, and exercise a cool head, it cannot afford to undo its hard-fought gains, especially by bowing to military threats on its doorstep or displaying a fragmented stance to the standoff.
The Kurdish people only exercised a democratic and peaceful voice. While Abadi has insisted Iraq will not attack Kurdistan, no one mobilizes a substantial and well-armored force if they do not have orchestrated attack options in mind.
Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesperson for the Iraqi Prime Minister, reiterated that they have a mandate from the Iraqi Parliament, backed by the regional and international communities, to impose federal authority in disputed areas, including Kirkuk.
Clearly, the statements emanating from Baghdad and movements on the ground are contradictory.
Difficult and unpredictable days lie ahead for Kurdistan, but continued unity remains the Kurds’ biggest weapon.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany