Upon Reflection (18 September-22 September)

Time to consider weekly global headlines in an ever-changing world

Selected News Headlines

for the
Working Week
18 September-22 September 2017

Kirkuk: Referendum Brings Violence, Risk of More

19 September 2017 Irbil, Iraq – STRATFOR –  In what amounts to the political equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire, the leadership of the Kurdish Regional Government (KGR) in Iraq is preparing for a referendum on Kurdish independence on September 25.

While the notion of Kurdish independence has been a touchstone issue among the Kurdish lands that span Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, it is one that has and continues to generate both controversy and violence.

The idea of a united Kurdistan was put to rest at the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 in an act of betrayal of regional people by Western powers[1] as they colluded to stabilise Turkey, then considered a more pressing matter.

Since then, 28 million Kurdish people have been living under separate Iraqi, Turkish, Syrian and Iranian jurisdictions – an arrangement that has been violently resisted in the main by Kurds living in Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

However, following the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi Kurds were promised autonomy under the protection of Allied airpower this has changed the balance of power. The Arab Iraqi government in Baghdad, unable to bring the Kurds to heel, has allowed them near full autonomy over their lands in Iraq, protected by the effective Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga.

In Syria, the ongoing civil war has allowed Syrian Kurdish YPG guerrillas to carve out their own area of Syria – Rojava, buttressing the border it shares with Kurdish Turkey and the KRG of Iraq.

In Turkey, renewed and intensified fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces continue to complicate Ankara’s ability to rule over its Kurdish population, numbered at around 15 million.

Currently, the notion of a united Kurdistan is gaining traction since the countries that currently rule over the Kurdish people are all on the outer.

The Iraqi Arab (Shia) government is essentially an outpost of Iranian power; the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has an increasingly hostile relationship with the West; Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad clings to power and is supported by Russia and Iran; while the Iranians themselves are still regarded as regional threats to the status quo ante of the Gulf and greater (Sunni Arab) Middle East, as well as Israel.

Presently, little is standing in the way of a concerted effort by Kurds to push for independence and unification. International positions are more fluid and, considering that neither of the governments holding sovereign sway over the Kurdish people are being actively backed by the West, perhaps the time for this concerted effort has arrived. Should the KRG referendum go ahead and succeed in delivering a pro-independence vote by an overwhelming margin, expect an intensification of political suppression against the Kurds by Ankara, Baghdad, Damascus and Tehran. Also expect an intensification of Kurdish resistance.

With Combative Style and Epithets, Trump Takes America First to the U.N.

19 September 2017 New York, United States – The New York Times – In a speech that was broadly criticised for having used undiplomatic language to articulate America’s position on the Korean Crisis, President Donald Trump used the international podium to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea.

Those seasoned diplomats at the United Nations who probably expected the American president to be chastened by the surroundings of the UN, would have been disappointed by the President’s speech. Nonetheless, perhaps strong rhetoric is what is needed to bring the North Korean leadership to heel over its continuing nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Central to all of this is the ‘bluff’ element.

Is Trump using empty bluster to make a point, or is his message delivered at the point of the spear, with US military forces poised to strike Pyongyang?

Depending on the nature of any conceived military action initiated by the United States, it is certainly possible that a series of limited strikes against North Korea may well be on the cards, thus allowing the US President to speak authoritatively on this matter.

However, such a move would need the public backing of the South Korean and Japanese governments – both highly anxious of the effects of any military action over Korea, whether launched by the North Koreas or by the Americans.

And then there would have to be the silent backing of China. This is unlikely, considering that a ‘post-war North Korea’ might be an American or South Korean occupied North Korea – hardly something Beijing would consider in its national interest.

Kim’s Rejoinder to Trump’s Rocket Man: ‘Mentally Deranged U.S. Dotard’

21/09/17 – The New York Times – Seoul, South Korea: The war of words between the White House and Pyongyang got even worse as the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, rather than showing restraint, retaliated against President Trump’s taunt last Tuesday (19/09/17) at the UN, calling Kim ‘Rocket Man’.

Kim responded by calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard”. This escalation of unseemly and undiplomatic language, coupled with another provocative American air force overflight over the 38th Parallel, is keeping the Northeast Asian region locked into an exceptionally tense period.

Optimists are suggesting that one should not read too much into this ‘posturing’ since diplomatic back-channels will in the end be used to calm tensions. This might indeed be the case as China has reputedly banned its major banks from dealing with North Korea. Theoretically, this single move has upped the pressure on Pyongyang. However, the effectiveness of this move is dubious. North Korea’s ability to survive international sanctions is premised on its ‘black market’. Furthermore, China is constrained in its ability to sanction North Korea because any tough move by it could provoke a regime collapse and all the negative consequences that that would entail.


[1] Similar to the betrayal of the Arab people following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918

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