US Defense Intelligence Agency predicts Kurdish independence
WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, told the committee that Kurdish independence “is on a trajectory, where it is probably not 'if', but 'when.'”
Stewart spoke in response to a question from the committee’s vice-chairman, Sen. Jack Reed.
On Monday, the day before the hearing, Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, met with Reed and Sen. John McCain, the committee chairman. Presumably, that discussion informed Reed’s question.
The DIA head further expanded on the question of Iraq’s political future following the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) in Mosul.
The “greatest challenge” to the Baghdad government, he said, will be “to reconcile the differences between the Shia-dominated government, the Sunnis out west, and the Kurds in the north.”
“Failure to address these challenges,” Stewart warned, “will ultimately result in conflict among all of the parties,” which could deteriorate into “civil strife” in Iraq despite the military defeat of the terrorist group.
In written testimony, Stewart also cautioned against the growth and institutionalization of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which he described as “a diverse array of militias largely dominated by Iranian-aligned Shia militia groups.”
“The presence of the PMF in areas liberated from [IS] will likely increase tensions with the Kurds and Sunni Arabs and could lead to violent clashes,” he warned
Stewart cited Kirkuk as a particularly sensitive issue between Erbil and Baghdad. Addressing the issues of ownership of the Kirkuk oil fields and the revenues associated with them, along with control of the city, will be a “significant political challenge for the Iraqi government.”
“Unless there’s an agreement in Baghdad that all parties can live with,” he stated, "the upcoming vote on Kurdish independence will complicate the situation.”
“This is a significant referendum,” he concluded.
Stewart’s written testimony was also extremely critical of much of Iraq’s security forces.
“Despite ongoing coalition efforts to build partner capacity, the Iraqi Army and police forces remain undermanned, undertrained, and under-equipped, plagued by a host of institutional deficiencies, including weak leadership, inadequate logistics, poor force-generation, and systematic corruption,” his statement read.
In contrast, “Kurdish security forces are likely to remain effective at defending Kurdish-controlled territory from most insurgent attacks,” Stewart’s written testimony notes.
Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart's testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday:
Editing by G.H. Renaud