Kurds in Iraq are suffering from internal disputes are the Kurdish forces of Peshmerga are launching operation towards IS-held northern city of Mosul. During the two-year-long war against the IS, Peshmerga have controlled regions that both Erbil and Baghdad claim authority over and are known as disputed regions. Kurdish officials and Peshmerga commanders have repeatedly reiterated that the regions are Kurdish and Peshmerga would not quit them.
To shed more light on the situation and find out what is to happen in both Iraq and Syria, the Kurds of the two countries in particular, Kurdpress interviewed with Renad Mansour, a former El-Erian fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, where his research focused on Iraq, Iran, and Kurdish affairs. He holds a PhD in international affairs from the University of Cambridge.
What follows is his answers to Kurdpress questions in the interview that was conducted before U.S. presidential elections.
What would happen to Mosul and Nainawa province after Daesh is ousted there?
I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question, even the people who are involved. It seems like there is a very clear military strategy and military plan to defeat ISIS in Mosul but there is no real clear political plan because there are multiple plans and the different groups and because of that there is no one direction that everyone is kind of going toward. So you have different scenarios and there is not concrete idea of what comes next. But there will be an interim government, an interim government council that would be able to kind of political agreement between allies, like Kurdistan Region, allies from the government, allies from different groups as well. I mean allies that have relations with the operation.
But really right now in Baghdad, for example, they have to negotiate this question that what’s going to happen next. But because that war is a complicated military battle at the moment and they are not really focusing on it as much. It is very dangerous because of not focusing on that question and not having clear strategy. The new Mosul will not be on a solid foundation.
So it cannot be predicted what is going to happen to the city later?
Yes that’s right. It is not clear and I think there are many ideas and plans but not a clear plan.
But there were negotiations ahead of the operation (to liberate Mosul) between Baghdad and all sides involved in the conflict, like the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in the west and the U.S. They mostly claimed that there is cooperation and agreements. But you believe there is no agreement.
There are many security cooperation and collaborations between Peshmerga and different Iraqi forces and they have been in touch. They have also been on the economic side, like sharing revenues and that would be important. And maybe they reached some sort of idea or frame work for what must come next.
One of the issues that there will be decisions over is the disputed regions, those regions that both Baghdad and Erbil claim authority over and are currently under the control of Peshmerga. What would happen to the regions after the operation is over?
Again this is also a quite grey blurred zone as well. Because even though you say you know they were speaking and that they were talking and reached settlements, they have not reached a settlement on this. And the Kurdistan Region targeting for its share has been renewed than weakened in the last few years. Kurdistan Region actually realized that they need the central government and the Kurdistan Region needs to receive the revenues. So what happened is that these areas are part of this whole strategy to give up gaining these taken areas and use them to bargain in negotiations. However, I think there are certain areas in northern Nainawa the Kurdistan Region will not claim.
And another part of the issue is that lets say Kirkuk becomes a part of Kurdistan Region. That would completely change the balance. I think the best scenario for the Kurdistan Region is Kirkuk, Sinjar and other areas to become their own regions for now and that eventually they can be a kind of attempt to incorporate them into the Kurdistan Region.
Do you think the disputed regions will remain under the control of Kurdistan region in the future?
For example Kirkuk has remained under Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga control for a long time even though it is not officially and legally a part of Kurdistan Region. I think it has an unofficial control on Kirkuk even though the reality on the ground is different. I think that will happen. I think on the ground the Kurdistan Peshmerga will continue to have considerable influence but it would take a long time and will be difficult and get that official on paper; for the Kurdistan Region to officially incorporate Kirkuk with the other disputed territories.
How would Baghdad deal with the situation if Kurds do not withdraw from the regions?
The problem with Baghdad right now is that the central government is not as strong as it should be. You should know that we are not speaking about one entity. We can speak about Haider al-Abadi’s government, you can speak of the paramilitary group of Hashid al-Shaabi and we can talk about Maliki and others. You see you have different policies. You know that Nouri al-Maliki, for example, has tried to court Sulaimaniya certain parties not to join some sort of cross-sectarian affairs there. While other groups in Baghdad may be close the KDP. So, there is not one united policy. So Baghdad authorities and party officials are more confident now. Before, they were a bit worried. They were more anxious about what the Kurdistan Region’s policies were. At this present time they are more confident than the Kurdistan Region needs some. And that has tilted, to some extent, the negotiations. So, of course, in general the political actors in Baghdad will not want the Kurdistan Region to grow in size and to take over all provinces and they will work against these aspirations.
Can we predict a Kurdish independent state in the north of Iraq?
I think right now definitely not; because first of all any independent state will have to be a negotiated state. I think that it is very clear that Kurdistan Region’s policy is that they are not going to declare their independence without agreement of several actors like Iran, Turkey, U.S. and others. In addition I think there should be an agreement reached with the central government. It has to be an amicable divorce. So for that to can happen it basically needs failures. Eventually the Kurds position might be winning an independent state because Iraq, as a country, is not working but this is a quite big scenario. But the Kurdish region’s leadership has to convince the other states that this is the best alternative for the future of the region. But actually what will happen is it that states are not important any more in the Middle East. There is no longer a unitary state or the strong central government as regions are becoming more important. So may be the states can be symbolic; but as you see the Kurdistan Region example there is a state in everything but in name. Kurdistan Region has a long walk to go and it is also unable to administer it own economic affairs. The fact that the government has been unable to pay the salary, the fact that there is a protest movement. Fundamentally they are unable to govern a state so they still need to be a bit more state-building before they can even declare independence.
Which group or person or politician will be the most important one regarding the situation of Sunnis in the west and he would decide about the situation mostly?
I think what’s going to happen there is that there kinds of leaders will come back. For example you have Atheel al-Nujaifi, you have some other leaders as well like Khalid al-Obeidi. Among the current leaders and the leaders we currently know, they will try and come back. Eventually once Mosul is stable, once people start governing, there is going to be a process movement in Mosul just like that you have in Baghdad, in Sulaimaniya and Erbil. One thing that we don’t know now is that what’s the opinion of people in Mosul. Because there has been no communication. We don’t know which leaders will emerge. It’s such a raw situation right now and they have been unable to generate political thought. The only thought they have been able to make right now is security and safety and the basic needs. Once you have stabilization, you’re going to have a movement for a change in leadership because I think the people are actually tired of those that escaped Erbil, in Baghdad or elsewhere. They will just come back as the liberators of those people. So in the short term there are going to be those people we are talking about, but in the long term there is going to be a movement for new leaders and new actors. The problem with the Sunnis, though, is that they don’t have a political party and that differentiates them from the Shia and the Kurds and that really hurts them institutionally. They need to start building these institutions and developing their leaders.
What the status of Sunnis will be in Iraq in future? Will have they their own say as much as they should?
Again, it depends. If you want a positive future for the Iraqi state they need to move past these kinds of lack of political trust that they have. In the short term you probably have to return to the leadership and govern the areas but for the long term there should be a new young generation that is suitable to govern. For this I believe the same leadership continues to have policies and they cannot continue to blame the Shia and Nouri al-Maliki for everything, but they are going to be in internal lock and they will be an internal contestations for power among the Sunnis.
Will they be united in the future?
I think no. there is not one group in Iraq and I don’t think the Sunnis are going to be united.
What about the shia military group Hashi al-Shaabi. What is its situation in Iraq now and in the future?
The Hashid al-Shaabi, at the moment, has been in Iraq and has been waging a holy sacred war against Daesh and because of those efforts it is sacred in its war against Daesh. But at the same time they are viewed as problematic as they are institution and umbrella by different groups under one command. So it is not good for the future of Iraq to continue to rely on these types of groups. In the future I think there is going to be efforts to integrate it either into the army or the police or counterterrorism forces. There are different alternatives put out there. But anyway what I fear, what most of us fear, is that many of these groups that existed before Daesh, before the Hasid was formed, is that there groups continue to be.
What about the future of the Iraqi PM after Daesh?
Well, I think he is hoping to use the victory of retaking Mosul as a way for him to maintain his legitimacy and the way for him to run in the next election. He is going to hope that the parties will be behind him. Unfortunately at the moment he is too weak but a lot can happen in this situation.
What the role of the U.S. will be in the post-Daesh Iraq?
The problem is that the U.S., especially since 2011, has not been really focusing on Iraq. For the U.S. to try and work in Iraq , is to make sure that the state is built, is to make sure that Iran is not too powerful, is to make sure that Daesh is defeated in Syria next.
The U.S. would like compete with Iran and Turkey for influence in Iraq. Turkey and Iran are more powerful in Iraq than the U.S.
What will Turkey’s role be in the future of Iraq?
I think it is similar to what has happened in that last many years. Turkey will try to continue its relation with the KDP. and has a good relationship with. I think the KDP and Erdogan domestic policies are problematic but certainly they still maintain a relationship. They have economic interests. They can work together to ensure that the PYD, for example, in Syria is not a big issue. They have similar allies like Atheel al-Nujaifi and others. So I think Turkey will try to work with the Kurdish allies, with the Turkmen allies, will try to make sure that Iran is not the only country benefiting and to make sure that Iraq makes no threats on its borders.
What’s your prediction for the U.S. election?
Well it is not my personal focus and this is my personal idea. Clinton said she will continue, to some extent, Obama’s policy, she has been the U.S. foreign minister for four years. Trump is not likely to win. I think that he will try not to engage as much in the region since he will likely have inward focus.
What happens to Iraq if Trump wins?
To some extend the president does not really matter as much as the mass of agenda that occurs. How different is Obama’s fist policy with the second term policy in the region’s foreign policy and even compared with Bill Clinton’s policy. You have a mass of decisions that are made in a different time like after 9/11. But, in general, there is no 9/11 type of event. There is not going to be a radical change or a dramatic shift because the different institutions, the different lobbies and the different groups in America that influence the president are going to be there and the president has to keep this dynamic. And so Trump will try to move away from this but will follow America’s national interests in the Middle East.
What role Iran will have in Iraq?
Iran will continue to have influence in the region. Iran will continue to be a power in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.
Interview: Parviz Lotfi