“We firmly reject that the blue line defines Kurdistan’s borders,” said Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani before the independence referendum on September 25.
This is an incident that ignited the Region’s problems. It is probably also the reason that has pushed the Region back to the “blue line” after it had lost many of its earnings which it since gained in 2003.
READ ALSO: Barzani: Referendum first step for Kurds to express their will
Speaking on the matter to Al Hadath on Tuesday, a Kurdish official said that Peshmerga Kurdish forces will retreat to the 2003 borders known as “the blue line.”
The Kurds are “against blood spill with the Iraqi army,” he added. Both parties fought hand in hand against ISIS.
However, this withdrawal is taking place after Barzani speaking to Al-Hayat newspaper said that Kurdistan’s “new borders will be drawn with blood.” In another interview with Kurdish media, he said: “The Region will not withdraw from lands that carry spilt Kurdish blood.”
Barzani said the latter while referring to areas that Kurdish Peshmerga forces fought ISIS to free or defend. These locations are outside Kurdistan’s recognized borders, most notably Kirkuk which is rich in oil.
Since 2003, Iraq’s Kurds have had many political and even geopolitical gains. After 2003, through their participation in overthrowing of the former Iraqi regime and establishing the new one and its administration, they obtained great gains. These gains were especially beneficial for the Kurds in neighboring countries Iran, Turkey and Syria.
Before 2003, the Kurds weren’t given a real chance in running the state’s affairs. But since 2003, their policy, described by many analysts and observers as “successful,” has resulted in securing broad rights for the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Most notable of these rights are federalism and retaining Peshmerga forces and including them as part of the Iraqi military establishment.
According to consensus, the Kurds now had quotas in Baghdad which include presidency, some ministries and parliament seats. In 2005, a coalition of Kurdish parties won second place in Iraq’s historic national elections. The coalition won 77 seats in the interim parliament.
After 2003, the Kurdistan expanded to include some other areas including Makhmour district located south of Erbil. The Kurds demanded the annexation of other areas to their region including Kirkuk, which is rich in oil.
The new Iraqi constitution included Article 140 as means to determine the fate of those sites.
Despite the Iraqi government’s delay in implementing the article, its presence in the constitution made is a Kurdish tool to pressurize the Iraqi government.
There is no doubt that the differences between Baghdad and Erbil persisted and intensified after the former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani departure from the country’s political scene after suffering from a brain stroke in 2012. He was a major mediator in the Iraqi conflicts.
Thereafter, Kurdistan took over many of the areas in question after ISIS seized several parts of Iraq. The most prominent of these lands are Kirkuk, Sinjar and Bashiqa.
At the same time, Barzani declared that the Region is not concerned with Iraq’s problems. Therefore, they would be holding a “fate-determining” referendum. However, attacks on areas under Peshmerga control, prevented the referendum.
Soon, Barzani held the referendum despite all internal, regional and international violations.
Yet Barzani’s accusation of Baghdad on breaking all promises, including the implementation of Article 140 and declaring the end of their partnership with the Iraqi government has taken an unexpected turn. One that Barzani did not anticipate, only to find himself standing at the Blue Line once again.
In spring of 1991, an uprising in Iraq resulted in many provinces falling in rebels’ hands. The Kurds in the north also seized a number of areas through armed action. At the time, the Kurds were part of an armed war against the former Iraqi regime.
After Iraqi forces crushed the uprising in the south, millions of Kurds withdrew from cities under their control. The cities were empty and their inhabitants headed towards Turkey, Iran and mountainous border areas. All Kurdish armed activities stopped.
After these events, observing internal actions, negotiations were held between the Iraqi regime and the Kurdish leadership leading to the northern front’s conciliation.
Externally, with a pressure from France, Turkey and other countries to issue UN Resolution 688, in which France submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council requesting the condemnation of Iraq’s repression of the Kurds in the north following their revolt against Baghdad’s central government during the Second Gulf War’s military operations.
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Resolution 688 of the Security Council on the fifth of the same month calls on Iraq to desist from pursuing the Kurds and respect for Iraqi human rights and urged international relief agencies to respond to the needs of Kurdish refugees, about one million of whom went to Iran and Turkey.
Washington later pressed for the creation of a safe area in northern Iraq, upon which Security Council resolution 687 was passed. After the international resolution was issued, America moved quickly and pursued to draw the “Blue Line” safe zone. In this area, flights and land invasion were prohibited. This area soon became the known borders of Kurdistan until 2003.
This area was then expanded to include three Kurdish provinces of Sulaymaniyah, Erbil and Dohuk, as well as specific areas with a Kurdish majority that were cut off from the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk and Mosul.
Returning back to the line
Iraqi Kurdistan Region held the referendum in areas they seized in 2014 despite strong opposition to the referendum plan itself. After the referendum, which declared the region winning the demand for separation by 92%, dialogue attempts between Erbil and Baghdad were not successful.
READ ALSO: Iraqi forces take down Kurdistan flag in southern Kirkuk
All the while Barzani insisted that any dialogue must be on the Kurdish region’s independence.
To their loss, on Saturday October 14 in light of what’s happening in Kirkuk, the Iraqi government enforced a harsh law on the Kurdish Region which orders the Peshmerga forces to retreat back to the “Blue Line.”
Within hours, Peshmerga forces withdrew from Kirkuk without a fight.