On 10th June 2014 the unthinkable happened when the rebel militia group ISIL captured Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, and declared itself the newly formed Islamic State. Yet now, 2 years after the Islamic State forces captured the city, the Iraqi army, along with Kurdish militia groups and other Allied forces, have begun an offensive to retake the city.
The offensive brings with it a new opportunity as well. Kurdistan is coming significantly close to independence, with a referendum planned in the Kurdistan region within the Iraqi border once ISIS is defeated. The Kurds had been victims to brutal Iraqi aggression under Saddam Hussein, yet the new Iraqi prime minister has given hopes to the many Kurds who dream of independence, declaring in August of this year that he viewed self-determination as an “Undisputed right”.
The fight against ISIS gives the Middle East a chance of mending relationships between old enemies – Iraqi and Kurdistan troops fighting side by side for a common goal. If it ends with an independence referendum brought about by peaceful means rather than an armed revolution, then undoubtedly it will be a massive breakthrough for Middle Eastern politics, offering a real hope for secular democratic governments to reintroduce Islam to the rest of the world in a positive light. However there are always complications once a common enemy is defeated.
Kurdistan is a geopolitical nightmare for the Middle East and especially its allies in the West. With territories covering Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, at times the idea of an independent Kurdistan was perhaps the only common enemy for these rival nations to rally against. And yet while ISIS has arisen as the main threat to the Middle East, the Kurds have built up a strong militia backed by financial aid and volunteers from all over the world. Now more than ever they pose a real threat to these nations wishing to supress any hints of independence, but unlike in previous attempts at independence the Kurds now have a strong, experienced and devoted military arm that has held its own against ISIS. It seems unlikely that the Kurds would back down now that they are so close to independence.
Let us not forget that in March this year a militant Kurdish group set off a car bomb in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, killing 37 people and injuring a further 125. The Turks and Kurds have been fighting each other throughout the conflict against ISIS. For NATO, this is a major concern. Where NATO would have normally welcomed an independent democratic and secular state in the Middle East, Turkey will surely call on its allies to stand against such a move. It poses an impossible question for the Americans, whether to support the Kurds for the loss of Turkey as an ally.
And whilst the common war against ISIS offers an opportunity to rebuild relations with Iran, any whiffs of independence within the Iranian border is sure to provoke the greatest of reactions.
The defeat of ISIS is hopefully a forgone conclusion, but just as the Second World War proved, post war politics is a tricky game. Let us hope that an independent and secular Kurdistan will be a leading beacon for Middle East states to modernise rather than a spark that ignites another war in an already troubled region.
But before post war politics can begin, the war against ISIS needs to be won and the Battle for Mosul is only the beginning.
Written by Jonny Morris