Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kurdish independance from Iraq

Power Struggles in Baghdad and Beyond Mean Opportunities for Iraq’s Kurds
The thriving Kurdish mini-state in northern Iraq is a monument to the ability of the nationalist Kurdish-Iraqi leadership to parlay the conflict between more powerful geopolitical forces around them to maximum advantage. And the escalating power struggle in Baghdad, combined with the regional conflict between Iran, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states being played out in Syria, may offer the Kurdish leadership in Erbil new opportunities to strengthen foundations for independence from Iraq. It may be a perilous game of temporary alliances of convenience among forces that don’t necessarily share a common vision, but that’s precisely the sort of political balancing act that created the Kurdish polity in northern Iraq, which already has many of the attributes of independence such as its own flag, administration and security forces — and is seeking to expand its independent economic base.

The power struggle in Baghdad has escalated to alarming proportions in the months since the last U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki eschewing the principle of a unity government that gives all stakeholders a share of power and instead amassing power in his own hands. Even the radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose support was critical to getting Maliki reelected, has taken to referring to the Prime Minister as “the dictator.” Sunni insurgent violence continues, while Sunni political leaders have been hounded out of government by Maliki. Recent days have seen him huddling with his key regional allies in Tehran, as he steps up a war of words and threats with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he accuses of meddling in Iraq’s affairs. Turkey makes no secret of its support for Iraq’s Sunni political bloc, Iraqiyya, and has castigated Maliki for pursuing a sectarian and “egocentric” style of ruling. Ankara has recently played host to fugitive Iraqi Sunni leader Tarek al-Hashemi, who was forced to flee Baghdad to escape a criminal prosecution his supporters see as a trumped up charge designed to hobble the Sunni political leadership. Hashemi fled first to Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), whose terrain the Iraqi security forces are not authorized to enter.

As dramatic as the language and gestures of some of the key players may be, however, patronage politics has entrenched a certain pragmatism in Iraq’s political class that shows no sign of evaporating in a headlong rush into civil war. Still, every new breakdown and episode of brinkmanship brings opportunities to press the Kurdish cause.

The Kurds, who represent some 20% of Iraq’s population, maintained good relations with Iran before Saddam Hussein’s ouster, and have typically been courted in post-Saddam politics when the major Shi’ite and Sunni political players have needed them to tip the balance against the other. The de facto casting vote provided by their share of Iraq’s proportional representation parliament has allowed the leaders of Kurdistan’s main parties — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Jalal Talabani, who serves as President of Iraq, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Masoud Barzani, who holds the position of Prime Minister in the KRG — to extract more concessions on autonomy and territorial control than Iraq’s Arab politicians would otherwise offer.

And these days, it’s not only Iraqi politicians that are courting the Kurds. Turkey last week feted Barzani in Ankara, rolling out the red carpet and affording him a meeting with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and he recently returned from a visit to Washington D.C. where he met with senior Administration officials. Those visits seemed to amplify Barzani’s defiance of Baghdad in a dispute over oil revenues, with the KRG prime minister accusing Maliki of paving the way for a return to dictatorship, and warning that absent “radical solutions and a specific time-frame to resolve the present crisis … we will resort to other decisions” — a not-so-veiled threat to declare independence from Iraq.

Independence, of course, remains the historical goal of Kurdish Iraqis, and a referendum on the issue staged in 2005 saw some 98% vote to break away from Iraq. Geopolitical realities, however, has required a curbing of that popular sentiment. Iraqi Kurdistan is small and landlocked, and while it possesses significant oil reserves, it would require the cooperation of one of its powerful neighbors — Turkey, Iran or Iraq — to pipe that oil to market. Also, the KRG was carved out in large part because the U.S., which had just overthrown Saddam Hussein, helped ensure its emergence, but made clear it was not ready to support a breakup of Iraq.

Kurds have waited for the moment when they will succeed in removing the shackles of an overbearing, at times highly repressive, central state. They know that when Baghdad is weak, they can take steps to bring their dream of statehood closer to reality, but that when the centre is strong it will use its superior resources to push them back into their place – or worse. This is why the Kurds are so alarmed at attempts by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to amass power at the expense of his rivals and rebuild a strong state, armed with U.S. weaponry, under his unchallenged control.

Ever since arriving in Baghdad on the coattails of the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Kurds understandably have used their new position and the centre’s weakness to develop their own region. They seek to reverse a legacy of discrimination and economic neglect but also to create an escape route should relations with Baghdad sour beyond repair. Yet, in many ways, this approach contains elements of a self-fulfilling prophecy: by pressing their advantage, Kurds inevitably aggravate matters, convincing the federal government that they are aiming for secession – and aiming to take with them a good chunk of disputed territory that Kurds claim as historically part of a notional Kurdistan but that also appears to be immensely rich in oil and gas.

Conventional wisdom before the U.S. invasion had held that Turkey would fiercely oppose the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Iraq for fear of spurring separatist inclinations among its own Kurdish minority. But even as the violent insurgency of the Kurdish separatist PKK has sparked an increasingly repressive backlash by the authorities in Ankara in recent years, Turkey has instead emerged as a key ally and economic partner of the emerging Iraqi Kurdish polity, with Turkish trade with the KRG amounting to fully half of all of its trade with Iraq.
It’s a pragmatic arrangement of mutual benefit: The Kurds have lately expanded their autonomous oil industry, concluding deals late last year with Exxon Mobil — which include the right to drill fields that are not currently recognized as part of the KRG, but are coveted by it as part of the patrimony of their state in the making. That move outraged Baghdad, and Erbil earlier this month halted oil exports through territory controlled by Baghdad over a financial dispute. The Kurdish leadership hope to use a pipeline built through Turkish territory as an alternative export route once it has been completed, which would lessen the KRG’s dependence on Baghdad.

Whereas a thriving autonomous Kurdish entity on its border may once have been deemed deeply threatening to Turkey, today Ankara appears ready to support Iraq’s Kurdish separatists not only as part of its contest with Iran for regional influence, but also because Turkey sees the KRG as a potentially important ally in its struggle against the PKK. Turkish support is premised on the willingness of the authorities in the KRG to clamp down hard on PKK operations in territory under its control. Barzani certainly talks the talk, publicly demanding, in Ankara last week, that the PKK lay down arms, and warning that he will not allow the group to operate freely in Northern Iraq as long as it remains committed to violence. However it may not be quite that simple: While Iraq’s Kurdish leadership may understand the geopolitical necessity of cooperating with Turkey’s campaign against the PKK, the peshmerga fighting men on whom they’d rely to actually tackle PKK operations on their turf are generally far more sympathetic to the plight of their brothers in arms from across the Turkish border.

Turkey’s PKK fears are exacerbated by the crisis in Syria, where its support for those fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has prompted Damascus to threaten to retaliate by resuming support for the PKK — a move that could spell trouble inside Turkey which shares a long border with Syria’s Kurdish region. Some suggest enlisting the likes of Barzani could serve as something of a hedge, and possibly even persuade more Syrian Kurds to move off the sidelines and support the anti-Assad rebellion.

They may be one of the peoples overlooked by the British and French when they redrew the borders of the Middle East in the wake of World War I, but today’s Iraqi Kurds appear to have digested the lessons of history, first and foremost the maxim that every crisis is also an opportunity.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Heightened Terrorist Threat- Nairobi

The US Embassy in Nairobi has issued a warning  regarding a potential terrorist attack against Nairobi hotels and/ or key government buildings. Officials said that they had received "credible information" that such an attack is "in the last stages of planning". 

We warn travelers to (re)assess their travel arrangements. These warnings, while common, will increase local security arrangements (and hence tensions) around government facilities and public areas such as hotels, shopping centers, clubs, restaurants, markets and transportation hubs. 

 For further information and/ or assistance: 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sudanese Spiral- Rhetoric or Reality?

Our team in Juba have watched carefully as instability has developed into conflict in Heglig. We have now witnessed this spread laterally along the oil band. The base of insecurity is spreading longitudinally. The question is whether we will see a latitudinal movement. Here's our thoughts.....

Sudan President Omar Al Bashir's recent (overnight) comments to 'liberate' South Sudan are likely more rhetoric than substance. He is well aware that the international community are looking for an East African 'hero' in a sea of regional instability. The Republic of South Sudan in many ways must be that hero. To that end there is only a remote chance that, even if Bashir wanted to, the Sudanese military would not be able to cross the threshold into Juba. The international community would likely stand (mostly invisible) behind the Republic of South Sudan. Think Libya.
President Bashir's commented: 'Either we end up in Juba or they end up in Khartoum. The old borders cannot take us both'. 

The reality is that neither is likely. The South has not the capabilities nor intent. The North has not the capability. Superimpose that the North risks inflaming the situation with the international community and United Nations and a status quo will likely continue in the near future along the oil band.

Friday, April 13, 2012

East Africa's Future Instability- Causation- Watch Eritrea!

The Geopolitics in East Africa are very 'interesting'. I define that as being 'stable but unpredictable'. Security and stability considerations have a wide catchment. We have previously written a number of articles for Oil and Gas Magazines that outlines some of the key factors 'why'. These hopefully provide that 25,000 foot view.

We are advocates of mapping the human terrain and ensuring community outreach and liaison to develop robust civil affairs strategies. This will ensure Community Based Security (CBS) whereby local support and 'buy-in' can be achieved. We believe you can’t dissociate countries from each other in East Africa. Indeed, negative security interrelationships exists between most countries - transnational terrorism, weak political systems and ungoverned spaces are but some examples 'why'.

And the Role of Eritrea and Ethiopia? Eritrea/ Ethiopia interplays remain a significant issue. Recent attacks (Ethiopian incursion) continued into March 2012 albeit with little media fanfare. This is largely due to:
1. Ethiopia being a valued 'partner' to the West on the 'Global War on Terror'. Hence incursions are regularly ignored.
2. The Ethiopia/ Eritrea conflict is simply a long standing and tired media message.

Eritrea is fast becoming (become?) a failed nation state which may have implications for Ethiopia and the wider region. NB: Eritrea remain accused of supporting Al Shabaab in Somalia and other anti Western Groups as well as sheltering Ethiopian rebels. Its political instability is well documented and concerns most observers, analysts and commentators.

Ethiopia continue to contribute troops against Al Shabaab into Somalia.This will continue to push Al Shabaab to seek regional support (expect from Eritrea and probably Yemen as well as Sudan?) which could create the preconditions for spiraling regional instability. Already our interlocutors in Somalia have confirmed that active operations against Al Shabaab have driven the pro Al Qaeda group north into the State of Puntland.

We also know from our Nairobi Office that Al Shabaab are openly conducting administration (and operations) into Kenya.  Al Shabaab's influence in recent attacks in Nairobi, albeit low level and unsophisticated, have shown both capability and intent.

Some other interesting neighborhood conclusions have been captured by the UN Monitoring Group at :

Stay safe......  Tim 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Putting Lipstick on that Donkey

Australian officials have rejected a report commissioned by the government agency AusAID that is critical of the security assessment in Afghanistan, insisting it be rewritten to match upbeat claims of dramatic progress. The report, by independent consultants for the aid and development agency, stated that the Taliban, while weakened in Oruzgan province - where Australian troops operate - were far from defeated. The assessment, born out by a resurgence of violence in the past two months, is at odds with the government's optimistic assertions about conditions in the province.

As we have previously espoused, what confronts the international community and NATO forces (including the Australians) in Afghanistan is largely a locally (ie: district and provincially) motivated insurgency. Whilst Anti Government Elements (AGE) are often involved, the centre of gravity of the insurgency remains in its locally generated, popular support base. The genesis is quite simple: Xenophobia and Nepotism.
Hence any 'snapshot in time' of military progress in any one particular province or area, whilst always possible, will unlikely be reflective of gains nor development nor outlook. END COMMENT.

While AusAID denied trying to dictate the content of the report, a spokeswoman said the agency had sought corrections to ''factual inaccuracies'' and ''clarifications between fact, perception and analysis''. She confirmed AusAID ''suggested'' the consultants cut a chapter on Afghan views on Australian and US troops in Oruzgan, as this ''did not fit within the terms of reference''.

The irony is that the one chapter that was cut in the Assessment was the one that was based on local opinion. Afghan views are entirely relevant- some would argue solely relevant. 'Acceptance' and 'tolerance' are key behaviors that are highly desirable (if not essential) in winning the counter insurgency battle. This is all about 'tongue instead of gun'. END COMMENT.