Friday, 15 August 2014

Arming the Kurds and the Danger of Spreading Regional Conflict.

While the strategy of arming the Kurds and trying to draw the Sunnis into a unity government would appear to be one way to check the spread of IS in Iraq, one danger would be that it could give impetus to the cause of arming the Free Syrian Army across the border.

The FSA, in its propaganda, has already accused President Assad of secretly plotting with ISIS so that they could divert the FSA in northern Syria away from taking Damascus. The problem is that official Western policy is still the one framed by Hillary Clinton and William Hague-'Assad must go'.

When it comes down to it Western policy 'remains contradictory and self-defeating', to use veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn's words, because of the seldom mentioned matrix of energy geopolitics that dominates Western policy ( and the regional powers ) with regards the Middle East.

The US and EU powers would like to tacitly work with Iran in Iraq so as to bolster Baghdad against IS. Yet in Syria the West wants to remove Assad so as to check the expansion of Iranian interests towards the Eastern Mediterranean and the possibility of a gas pipeline stretching there from the South Pars gas field.

As Qatar becomes a regional power and a major economic partner of Western powers, and a vital supplier of liquefied natural gas to stave off potential energy shortfalls in Britain and France, Western foreign policy has increasingly aligned itself to a Qatari-Turkish Sunni axis of influence.

Not only does Qatar host a US Gulf air base, Qatar’s al-Udeid air field, used for strikes against IS, Qatar has tried to extend its regional reach into energy and infrastructure projects, signing a Memorandum of Understand with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) back in 2009.

With Qatar and Turkey aligned in checking Iranian interests in Syria, having their own scheme for a gas pipeline between Qatar's part of the South Pars gas field and Turkey, Iran could get more concerned that both in Syria and Kurdistan, the West is plotting to contain and encircle it further.

The strategy of providing arms to the Kurdish peshmerga is being balanced with one of trying to shore up Iraq as a 'unitary state'. The problem would be if Kurdistan would then regard that as a signal that it could and should break from Baghdad, not least over rows over oil revenues and contracts.

Despite being regarded as opposed to Kurdish independence, Erdogan's government is prepared to see greater autonomy and, in May 2014, Turkey started officially to export Kurdish oil on to the international market as part of his grand design to position it as an east-west energy hub.

Turkey's geostrategy could only raise tensions with Baghdad and especially with Iran, historically its regional competitor in the Kurdish borderlands and, to the north, in the Caucasus where a shadowy New Great Game for pipeline routes also contains the potential for war and destabilisation.

Iran would fear what Norman Stone calls Erdogan's 'neo-Ottoman' strategy as it would act as a magnet in drawing the Kurds into a prosperous economic block driven by oil wealth and could lead to Kurdish irredentist tendencies and even uprisings within Iran as happened back in 1946.

Set against a background of continued sanctions on Iran, the attempt to block off Iranian gas exports to the east via Pakistan, through trying to cajole the latter into accepting gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan ( the proposed TAPI pipeline ), the failure to take Iranian interests into account could be dangerous.

One way to avoid the intensification of a regional proxy war, indeed of the escalation into a wider regional war in which even the global powers would be sucked in deeper towards a greater collision would be to involve Iran directly in diplomatic talks over Syria instead of ignoring them as as been hitherto the case.

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