As regional and Western diplomats point fingers at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for aiding embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – a charge which Baghdad vehemently denies – Iraqi Kurds are increasingly involved with the opposition, lured by the possibility that in a post-Assad Syria, Kurds there might achieve some degree of autonomy. That would allow the KRG to expand its foothold.
The KRG has hosted leaders of the Syrian opposition in its regional capital, Erbil, much to Baghdad’s dismay. It has also lent support to Kurds in northeastern Syria – Barzani publicly admitted in July that his government is providing them with military training. And now some of the Kurdish factions there are holding talks with the mostly Arab Syrian opposition to decide whether and how to join them in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad, even though the relationship between the two camps has been strained by several bouts of fighting.
“The Syria crisis is forcing everyone around Syria to choose sides,” says Joost Hiltermann, who follows Iraq for the International Crisis Group (ICG). “Maliki is worried about the emergence of a post-Assad Sunni Islamist order in Syria… he finds that he has to support Assad by default. This puts him de facto in the Iranian camp and in conflict with Turkey.”