Could another ISIS surge hasten a Kurdish exit from Iraq?

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After a perilous roller coaster ride in 2014, the question of independence for the Kurdistan Region moves back to the front burner.

With the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) latest victory in Ramadi, contentions its rapid advances had stalled must be revisited. In the wake of the visit to Washington by Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) president, Masoud Barzani, the question of KRG priorities and strategies might once again be changing.

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From left front: Falah Mustafa Bakir, Qubad Talabani, and President Masoud Barzani meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (third and fourth from right front) in the White House, May 5, 2015.  Photo: WhiteHouse.gov, https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/17384259745/

“Right now,” said Barzani, “the priority for all of us is fighting ISIS, to continue to push them out and away from our areas. But the process for the referendum to take place for the people of Kurdistan to determine their future and for the people of Kurdistan to exercise the right to self-determination is a process that has happened.  It will not stop and we will not step back on that process.”

A resurgence of the Islamic State, though, might force the KRG to reprioritize its “defeat Daesh, then vote on independence” strategy. Erbil may rely on good relations with the current Iraqi prime minister, but can it rely on the next one? Will Baghdad be able to coordinate support from Shiite militias, Sunni tribes, the Iraqi Army, and Western air strikes? Will Baghdad devote more resources to protecting Karbala and Najaf, at the expense of Sunni or Kurdish areas?  If Baghdad cannot protect major cities like Mosul and Ramadi from ISIS – will the Kurds decide they are better off alone?

Read more at the Foreign Policy Association’s ForeignPolicyBlogs.com

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