A piece in the New York Times today (Turkey’s Best Ally: The Kurds) makes this observation:
The alliance between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan has grown over the past five years, as Turkey invested heavily in the partly autonomous Iraqi region, opened a consulate in its capital Erbil, and Mr. Erdogan even befriended its leader, Masoud Barzani.
The relationship was further cemented earlier this month, when Ankara signed a 50-year deal with Iraqi Kurdistan’s leaders, allowing them to export Kurdish oil to the world via a pipeline that runs through Turkey. The deal, which was opposed by Iraq’s central government in Baghdad, indicates that Turkey now sees Iraqi Kurdistan as a strategic partner, and cares very little about the territorial integrity of Iraq that it used to obsess about.
So Turkey, a NATO member, sees Kurdistan as a separate entity autonomous from Baghdad, and has backed that up with actions Baghdad has been powerless to stop. Which, on Turkey’s part, is just one small step away from a recognition of sovereignty.
The Kurds have wanted their own state for many, many years, and have been persistently chipping away at it since the US invasion. They are getting close.
Iraqi Sunnis have been seething against the government in Baghdad, not quite welcoming ISIS with open arms, and Baghdad has returned the favor. Even if Maliki’s government is tossed out, Iraq is becoming a mirror of Syria, with a somewhat cosmopolitan capital surrounded by a religiously conservative and alienated countryside.
It will be very difficult to achieve a lasting Iraqi state in its present borders, no matter how many air sorties the carrier G. H. W. Bush launches against ISIS. It will also be very difficult for the US to get past its domestic politics and do anything more useful.