A scene in Winter Republic has the protagonist Thomas Kozak getting information from a source about a Western major contractor called Global Special Engineering Services (a name I made up, but whose profile could describe lots of companies with names we know). GSES seems to be involved in mysterious military construction projects Thomas has discovered underway across Crimea. In that scene, Thomas’s source mentions to other GSES projects in ‘Kurdistan,’ rather than calling the region Kurdish Iraq or just northern Iraq. I was trying to make a point that Kurdish Iraq had become so autonomous by 2007 (the time of the book), that people working there routinely referred to it as an independent Kurdistan.
Now Stratfor reports that Kurdish local authorities sidestepped the central government in Baghdad and teamed with international investors to build an pipeline that will supply Turkey with Kurdish oil. An audacious move, and the fact that investors put their money behind it means that at least some people are confident that Kurdish autonomy will survive the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
A cooperative Ankara, a weak Damascus, a preoccupied Tehran, an overwhelmed Baghdad and a host of anxious investors formed the ingredients for an audacious pipeline project. It began furtively in 2012 as a natural gas pipeline designed to feed the domestic Kurdish market. When the pipeline quietly skirted past the power plant it was supposed to feed, underwent a conversion to transport oil and began heading northward to Turkey, the secret was out: Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government were working to circumvent Baghdad and independently export Kurdish energy.
As the pipeline construction progressed, Kurdish peshmerga forces continued spreading beyond formal Kurdistan Regional Government boundaries in disputed areas and held their ground against demoralized Iraqi army forces. And in the name of guarding against a real and persistent jihadist threat, Kurdish forces built deep, wide ditches around the city of Arbil and are now building one around the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, marking the outer bounds of a slowly expanding Kurdish sphere of influence.
Autonomy may not lead to eventual statehood. The idea of a sovereign Kurdistan has been anathema to Iraq and Iran, and the US is unlikely to support the idea. Turkey’s softening stance is interesting though, and Turkey holds the strongest cards in the region. As Stratfor points out though, the biggest obstacle to Kurdish independence may be fissures within the Kurdish community itself.
“Letter from Kurdistan is republished with permission of Stratfor.”