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Vol. 81/No. 20      May 22, 2017

(front page)

Kurdish parties in Iraq plan referendum on independence

The recent decision by the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the two main political parties in Kurdistan, to hold a referendum on independence before the end of 2017 throughout the northern Iraq territory governed by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), is a step forward in the historic struggle of the Kurdish people for a national homeland. It impacts on the concurrent struggles of the Kurdish populations of Syria, Turkey and Iran.

The formation of the KRG was one of the unintended consequences of Washington’s 1991 and 2003 “regime change” wars against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Over the last two years the peshmerga — the KRG’s army — has expanded the Kurdish government’s territory by 40 percent by driving back the reactionary Islamic State.

The 30 million Kurds in the Middle East are the largest nationality without a state. It was denied to them by the imperialist victors of World War I as they imposed arbitrary borders on the toilers.

The Iraqi rulers in Baghdad, along with the capitalist regimes in Ankara, Tehran and Damascus, have denounced the referendum. Washington says it defends Iraq’s “unity and territorial integrity.

Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the National Alliance, the ruling Shiite coalition in the Iraqi government, said April 19 that Kurdish moves toward independence would unleash a “political tsunami” in the region, threatening to tear Iraq apart.

“The time is right for a Kurdish state,” said Masoud Barzani, president of the KRG, the Rudaw paper reported May 3. “Separation from Baghdad will never happen if the Kurdistan region waits for the international community to intervene.”

Kurdish advances in Syria
As in Iraq, Kurds in northern Syria, who are led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have taken advantage of the political and military space opened up by the Syrian civil war to consolidate an autonomous Kurdish area in northeast Syria along the Syrian-Turkish border. They are fighting to link up with Kurds who control the Afrin area in the northwest to establish an autonomous contiguous Kurdish region.

Like the KRG’s peshmerga, which has an alliance with Washington in the monthslong battle to capture Mosul from Islamic State, YPG fighters have proven the most effective military force against IS in Syria. They lead the Syrian Democratic Forces and, with Washington’s backing, are fighting to take Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Islamic State.

Ankara, which fears the YPG will inspire Kurds in Turkey, calls for Washington to break this alliance. The Turkish government claims the YPG is a wing of the “terrorist” Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Donald Trump in Washington this month. The dispute over the YPG is on the table.

Moscow and Tehran, supporters of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and Ankara, which backs anti-Assad groups fighting in the civil war, agreed May 4 to implement and police so-called de-escalation zones in four parts of Syria. The plan, adopted at a conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, was presented as a road to a “political settlement.” Syrian opposition forces walked out when the agreement was announced.

Much remains uncertain. Russian Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi told the media May 5 that Washington’s warplanes would be barred from flying over the four zones. The Pentagon said they would continue to do so.

Meanwhile, the Assad government continues to carry out murderous attacks on opposition areas.

The civil war entered its seventh year in March. In 2011 the Assad regime brutally suppressed a wave of mass mobilizations demanding political rights and the fall of the government. Since then an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed, over half the population of the country has been driven from their homes and Islamic State emerged and seized power in sections of the country, establishing a reign of terror.

In September 2015 Moscow intervened militarily, seeking to reverse continuing losses suffered by the Assad regime. The Russian government was aided on the ground by Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon. A turning point took place at the end of December last year when the regime captured Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

Moscow and Damascus have been carrying out a cynically named “reconciliation” program, laying siege to towns and giving opposition militias and civilians the “choice” of surrendering or being killed. Moscow says over 1,000 of these deals have been signed.

After surrendering, opposition fighters and civilians are transported by Damascus to opposition-held Idlib province where they have been easy targets for Moscow and Damascus.  
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