Is Kurdistan All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

by Dish Staff

Kurdistan’s image in the West as a stable, successful, democratic proto-state is not entirely in line with reality, Jenna Krajeski remarks:

Kurdistan is booming on the promise of oil wealth, and their securitymaintained by the peshmergahas enticed investors to the region. But progress has come alongside reports of rampant corruption, a widening gap between the rich and poor, and increasingly authoritarian tendencies in a government still dominated by family names. Disenfranchised Kurds find little hope of influencing the authorities or benefiting from the oil wealth. Perhaps nothing in Kurdistan illustrates its internal fissures more than the peshmerga themselves. …

And while crisis has unified the peshmerga who may be divided along party lines, not every Kurd is willing to take up arms to defend Kurdistan. A generation of Kurds living for over a decade in relative stability, many benefiting from the increasing wealth and education opportunities, have little interest in becoming soldiers. “Like other youth around the world, the Kurdish youth want to go to school, enjoy life, and travel abroad,” Natali said. “[They want to] take advantage of the opportunities of living a normal life, which means not going to the mountains to fight.” If the Kurdish and American governments hope that Kurdish nationalism will provide an endless flow of fighters for the peshmerga, they may be disappointed. The Kurdistan that President Barzani so desperately wants to usher into independence is one where people want to live more than they want to fight.

Kurdish leaders are also not blind to the need to manage their image and cultivate relationships in Western capitals. Kate Brannen looks into the KRG’s K-Street operation:

To spread their message in Washington, Kurdish leaders have long maintained relationships with members of the media, the think tank and academic communities, politicians on Capitol Hill, and officials in and out of government. For the last several years, the Kurds have also retained a slew of lobbying firms, including Patton Boggs, to work on their behalf. The Kurdish Regional Government, which runs the Kurds’ proto-state in northern Iraq, spends at least $1 million a year on these efforts, according to documents filed with the Justice Department.

The lobby’s influence appeared to have paid off when the White House announced it would conduct airstrikes over Kurdish territory. The U.S. government has also begun fulfilling the Kurds’ long sought-after goal of direct U.S. military support, including the provision of much-needed weapons and ammunition. France also announced Wednesday that it, too, will begin providing arms to the Kurdish forces. But some experts warn not to misread the situation. Kurdistan’s roster of high-powered lobbyists and high-profile public advocates has helped it gain American weaponry, but the influence campaign has yet to accomplish the Kurds’ primary goal: winning U.S. support for the creation of an independent Kurdish state. For the moment, that remains a bridge too far for the Obama administration, just as it did for the Bush administration before it.

A reader, meanwhile, chimes in on Kurdistan’s oil, writing that “a lot of executives and security experts in companies that have taken exploration license from the KRG are reassessing their emergency and security plans right now”:

ExxonMobil blocks in KRG 30-11-2011If you look at the map you will see that the status of Erbil might not be what raises the most concern. The most prolific assets in Kurdistan are traversing the Green Line, and in particular to the north-west of Kirkuk. As you will see from the attached map, the two primary Exxon assets are Al Qush and Bashiqa, both of which are in the Christian areas that ISIL ran through and where the Peshmerga retreated from. This also applies to Hunt oil’s primary asset and to the very prolific Shaikan bloc.This means that for the oil interests, the big question now is: can the KRG provide the security they promised? Can they put people on the ground for the foreseeable future and not risk seeing them on a YouTube channel from some Jihadi group? Can the KRG protect their assets in the disputed areas if relations with Baghdad should come to a confrontation sometime in the future? So far companies have bought into the KRGs assurances, but the ISIL progress will have dented that belief significantly.