Two cities – Kirkuk and Raqqa – fall in two days and the political landscape of the Middle East is transformed. One of these events, the capture of Raqqa, the last urban stronghold of Isis, by the Syrian Kurds backed by US airpower, had been expected, but was no less important for that. The “caliphate” declared three years ago has been destroyed, though Isis will persist as a guerrilla and terrorist movement.
The capture of Kirkuk, the oil city which Kurds and Arabs have battled to control for 50 years, came last Monday and was completely unexpected. It not only changed the politics of Iraq, but of the region as a whole. Put briefly, the central government of Iraq is back in business as a power to a degree not seen since 1991 when Saddam Hussein was calamitously defeated by the US and its allies after he invaded Kuwait.
Kurdish dreams of establishing an independent state drawing on the oil wealth of Kirkuk have been extinguished, probably forever. The semi-independent Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which might have been a beacon to the 25 million Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria, will see its powers squeezed by the government in Baghdad. Its leaders have a lot to answer for: their divisions, miscalculations and greed have capsized the heroic Kurdish struggle for self-determination stretching back over a century.