In the Wake of the War

BERLIN/ERBIL/BAGHDAD (Own report) - In the wake of the war against IS (Daesh), the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, which is supported by Berlin, is forcibly displacing the Arabic-speaking inhabitants, aimed at a consolidation of the Kurdish dominated territory, as was reported by Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to HRW's investigation, the Kurdish Peshmerga has deliberately destroyed the homes of Arabic-speaking Sunnis in at least 21 villages and towns in northern Iraq, while leaving intact the Kurdish-owned houses. The Kurdistan Regional Government under President Masoud Barzani is striving to incorporate as many areas as possible - particularly the oil rich region Kirkuk - into the Kurdish autonomous region before seceding from Iraq. For decades, Barzani and his clan have been cooperating closely with politicians from the Federal Republic of Germany. Berlin was also promised access to the large oil reserves in the autonomous region. In return, Germany, above all, has been supporting the Peshmerga in its war against Daesh, while refusing similar aid to the Baghdad government. The German government is also ignoring the eviction of the Arabic-speaking inhabitants of the predominantly Kurdish region.

Close Ties

For a long time, German politicians have maintained good relations with the Barzani clan, today in control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Bavarian Prime Minster Franz Josef Strauß (CSU), who died in 1988, had already established contacts with Erbil. Masoud Barzani, today's president of Iraqi Kurdistan, allegedly met with Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the second half of the 1980s. The first representation abroad of the Kurds of northern Iraq was opened in 1992 in Bonn, from where - according to Masoud's brother Dilshad Barzani, Erbil's current "ambassador" to Berlin - direct contact to the German government was maintained. This happened at a time when plans were circulating in the West aimed at ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with the help of the Kurdish-speaking population. Before taking office in early November 2005, Angela Merkel met with Masoud Barzani to expand ties.[1] She allegedly meets with "Ambassador" Dilshad Barzani "regularly."[2] In March 2013, Chancellor Merkel held informal talks with Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and nephew of the Kurdish autonomous region's president, at the CDU/CSU Bundestag parliamentary group's congress on supplies of German raw materials. Nechirvan Barzani offered Germany access to the large oil and natural gas reserves in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Oil and Gas

This is precisely what Berlin had been seeking - embedded in its systematic activities to obtain influence. In early 2009, the German foreign ministry opened a Consulate General in Erbil, followed by the establishment of the "European Technology and Training Center." Funded by Germany and referred to as a "leadership academy" by the German foreign ministry, the center trains specialists and ministerial officials compatible with German standards.[3] In 2010, the German government opened a "Liaison Office for Industry and Commerce" in the Kurdish autonomous region. In late August 2010, RWE entered a cooperation agreement with Barzani's KRG, providing the Essen-based company with access to natural gas in northern Iraq. However, the central government in Baghdad annulled the RWE deal, which had been concluded without the relevant government agencies having been consulted. In early 2011, Germany's Minister for Development, Dirk Niebel, went to the Iraqi capital and tried to save the agreement - to no avail.[4] The KRG controls huge oil and gas reserves. Experts estimate the oil reserves at 7 billion barrels, equaling that of Azerbaijan, or twice that of Egypt. Some estimates, which seem not unrealistic, go as high as 45 billion barrels. An exceedingly attractive amount - even though it is less than the known reserves in the non-Kurdish-speaking regions of Iraq (150 billion barrel.). In addition there are considerable deposits of natural gas.[5]

Plans to Secede

The substantial oil deposits in the Kirkuk region are also of political relevance. They are located in areas outside Northern Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan, but regions to which the KRG is laying claim - along with Kirkuk - as historically Kurdish territory. For quite some time, there has been a dispute over whether these regions should belong to the autonomous region of Kurdistan or remain under Baghdad's direct control. Oil reserves of at least 4.4 billion barrels have been reliably confirmed in the Kirkuk region, with the real volume being significantly higher. President Barzani's KRG has instrumentalized the war against Daesh to conquer large stretches of the Kirkuk region. The KRG has taken control of all the areas from which the Peshmerga has expelled Daesh, and it seems not to plan Peshmerga's withdrawal, once Daesh has been defeated, as expected. On the contrary, President of the autonomous region, Masud Barzani, has announced his intentions of holding a referendum on a possible secession from Iraq of the entire autonomous region. The KRG's close cooperation with Germany and the USA is to its political advantage. Therefore, unlike the Iraqi government, which is seen as unreliable, it expects no principle objections from the West. Until recently, the West had also viewed the fact that the Barzani clan was closely cooperating with Ankara as another clear bonus for Erbil.

Bundeswehr's Protégés

Recent Human Rights Watch reports are now confirming that the Peshmerga have used measures to expel the Arabic-speaking population from the areas around Kirkuk. Berlin is strongly implicated in these operations due to the fact that, beginning in September 2014, the Peshmerga has been comprehensively equipped and trained by the Bundeswehr.[6] The Kurdish Training Coordination Center (KTCC) in the vicinity of Erbil, stands alternately under the command of a German and an Italian officer. According to the German military, around 12,000 Peshmerga have graduated - the Bundeswehr had trained 3,400 of them, directly. The Bundeswehr calculates the quantity of German weapons - including assault rifles, anti-tank rocket launchers, guided missiles, grenades, machineguns, ammunition and armored vehicles - delivered to the Peshmerga at currently 2.400 tons. A cargo plane landed in Erbil last Tuesday, carrying 1,000 G-36 assault rifles and 2.5 million rounds of ammunition.

Systematically Destroyed

Human Rights Watch has now investigated the destruction in 21 villages and cities, retaken by the Peshmerga from Daesh in the period from September 2014 to May 2016 - 17 of which in the area around Kirkuk. The investigation showed that the Peshmerga had destroyed numerous houses only after they had taken control of the respective localities. When asked by HRW, how the destruction had occurred, sometimes months after hostilities had ended, the KRG responded that the particular houses had been booby-trapped by Daesh, therefore they had to be torn down.[7] HRW points out that it is unusual to disarm mines by driving a bulldozer over them or by setting booby-trapped buildings on fire, as was done in these places. It is also difficult to understand why Daesh would only booby-trap houses belonging to Arabic-speaking Sunnis, while leaving those of the Kurdish-speaking inhabitants untouched. It became apparent to HRW that the large majority of he houses of the Arabic-speaking Sunnis had been destroyed to prevent the inhabitants from returning, while those of the Kurdish-speaking Iraqis were left intact. HRW reports that this seems to have been the case in at least 62 other localities, judging from the clear indications seen on satellite photos.

Loyal to the West

In mid-October, at a time when the battle for Mosul had already begun, Human Rights Watch documented those same measures, which are nothing less than the eviction of the Arabic-speaking Iraqis from territories coveted by the KRG. Within four days, the Peshmerga had destroyed at least 100 homes and forcibly evicted 375 Arabic-speaking families from Kirkuk and its surrounding areas, HRW reports. Only the homes of non-Arabic-speaking Iraqis have systematically been spared.[8] Many Arabic-speaking Sunnis in Kirkuk, Mosul and surrounding areas live in fear, of either being caught in the crossfire of the war against Daesh, or of being expelled from the homes by the Peshmerga following the battle. Their practices threaten to plunge the entire northern Iraq into the next conflict. Whereas, in other cases, Berlin would eagerly use such practices to attack a recalcitrant government massively and possibly even go to war against that country, in the case of the KRG, it is ignoring them. Under Barzani, Erbil remains loyal to the West. Therefore, from the German government's perspective, there is no reason to apply serious pressure on the KRG.

[1] See (Irakisch) Kurdistan.
[2] Mariam Lau: Plötzlich Helden. 06.09.2014.
[3] See From Baghdad to Erbil (I), From Baghdad to Erbil (II) and Von Bagdad nach Erbil (III).
[4] See Middle East Partnership Cultivation.
[5] Robin Mills: Under the Mountains: Kurdish Oil and Regional Politics. The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, January 2016.
[6] See Deutsches Kriegs-Know-how.
[7] Marked with an "X". Iraqi Kurdish Forces' Destruction of Villages, Homes in Conflict with ISIS. Human Rights Watch, November 2016.
[8] Belkis Wille: For Iraq's Sunni Arabs, You Can't Go Home Again. 16.11.2016.