Kurds could emerge as the big winners from conflict

A soldier from the Peshmerga force stands guard. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

By John Irvine, ITV News Senior International Correspondent.

Hundreds of miles of the Iraq-Syria border have just been erased by the Sunni extremists of Isis.

The fanatics have seized control of several crossing points and that will give them absolute freedom of movement between eastern Syria and western Iraq. To all intents and purposes the frontier doesn’t exist any more.

The Middle East carved out by British and French diplomats almost a century ago is being recast by the tumultuous events in Iraq.

While one border is vanishing a new one has been created in the north of Iraq. The Kurds have set up a defensive line about twenty miles south of Kirkuk, a city they crave to be theirs.

Kirkuk lies outside the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, but when the Iraqi Army fled the city the Kurds grabbed it before Isis could do so.

In the complicated confusing mess that is Iraq today, the Kurds are the only ones who definitely share our western secular values.

And yet they are having to defend that way of life with resolve and rusty old equipment. They are fighting with weapons left over from the first Gulf War. Their enemies are armed with left over Iraqi Army equipment, weapons from the second Gulf War.

Kurdish aspirations for independence have ensured that the governments in Baghdad and Ankara (Turkey has a large sometimes restive Kurdish population) have resisted equipping the Kurds with more modern weaponry.

If Iraq is to be saved then the Kurds – and their fighting men in the Peshmerga – will have to do some of the saving.

And yet relations between the Kurds and the government in Baghdad have been frosty at best.

The Kurdish quest for greater autonomy and disagreements over oil revenues mean it’s far from clear how hard they will fight for Iraq.

The Kurdish forces have some tanks at their disposal in the fight against Isis. Credit: ITV News/Sean Swan

So far gun battles between the Kurds and Isis have been intermittent. For the time being the extremists are concentrating their efforts against Iraqi government forces.

However the Kurds know that Isis will probably come after them eventually. In particular Isis will want Kirkuk and its oil-rich environs.

In that Anglo-French carve-up almost a hundred years ago, the Kurds were the big losers. The Kurdish people are the largest ethnic group in the world without a country.

The Kurds of Iraq have prospered since the second Gulf War.

The last fortnight has seen them expand their sphere of influence and as this crisis evolves they could emerge as big winners, especially if they manage to hold Kirkuk. But they’ll probably have to fight for it.

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