Can Rojava Withstand a Permanent Embargo Brought on By Iraq?
The Iraqi Government appears poised to permanently shut down the border between Rojava and Norther Syria, or Kurdish Iraq. The move could bring catastrophic economic consequences for the already struggling experiment in Rojava, along with a potential medical crisis for hundreds of thousands of refugees.
The recent invasion of Kurdish Iraq, or Northern Iraq, by Iraqi Forces and Iranian Militia Groups could threaten the stateless experiment in Syria, Rojava. After the referendum to declare independence from Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has seen its President resign as Iraqi and Iranian forces have seized Kurdish territory.
The much vaunted Pershmerga appear to have chosen not to fully engage with the Iraqi and Iranian forces as they advanced. Iraqi Government forces have seized control of the Rabia Border crossing to Syria on October 17th. They are now seeking to share control of the Fish Khabur crossing with Iraqi Kurds.
A draft agreement between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government creates joint administration by Iraqi Forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, and International Forces. The agreement will directly affect Rojava, as the region known as Fish Khabur has been used by Syrian Kurds to travel to the Iraqi Kurdish region and vice versa.
The KRG had closed the Fish Khabur crossing in an effort to appease the Turks, which effectively imposed an embargo on Rojava. At various times, however, the crossing has been allowed to open. Given Iraq’s recent willingness to align itself with Turkish interests, the concern is that the on-again, off-again embargo will be permanently on under Iraqi-dominated direction.
The one wildcard is that the United States has also used the crossing in support of Syrian Democratic Forces-YPG. The Kurds in Syria are hoping the United States will not allow a permanent embargo to take place. If the embargo becomes permanent, Rojava would be profoundly affected economically, as it is already being hit hard by Turkey’s efforts to embargo the region.
Doctors without Borders are also warning that closing the crossing permanently could be catastrophic for the 500,000 refugees that are on the Northern Syria side of the crossing. These refugees would not have access to the basic medical supplies they currently need.
Perhaps due to the economic pressures being felt in the region, one of the Cantons of Rojava has enacted a taxation system, something that, in the beginning of the Rojavan experiment, was not on the table. The Canton is Cizire. The Canton enacted an income tax to help fund public institutions and services, fund local security, and finally to “back women rights.”
The tax affects all who make the equivalent of $200 per month, which is 75 percent of the population. The move is a departure from the model originally inspired by the writings of Abdullah Öcalan, a political prisoner in Turkey who is considered by some to be the inspiration of the Rojavan experiment. He is one of the founders of the Kurdistan Workers Party.
If the border is closed, what remains to be seen is what further “compromises” the experiment in statelessness known as Rojava will find itself making, compromises that could effectively end its claim to be ‘stateless’ at all.