The fiscal constraints facing the transportation sector are linked to those facing the security forces in the region. The Peshmerga keep the region safe and stable; they play a critical role in an economy that is closely tied to trade with Turkey to prosper. It is a complex and hard-to-balance situation. “We need serious help to protect ourselves, we are under threats every minute. We must be ready for the eventualities,” said a Kurdish commander who is in charge of the border regions between the KRG, Iran and Turkey. “We are trying to get back on track and our relations with central government is getting better, I think the current PM is the last chance for Iraq, if we can’t solve the problems with those who lead Iraq now, then we are unlikely to solve them in the future,” the commander said.
His comments and those of other officials from ministries and frontline Peshmerga units show the growing concern about the future of the region two years after the Islamic State was routed in Mosul and Erbil suffered a setback following the independence referendum. Washington’s policy is to avoid a conflict with Iran while keeping up the maximum pressure campaign. But tensions across the Persian Gulf are impacting Iraq because Iranian-backed Shi’ite paramilitary groups, some of them already sanctioned by the United States for ties to the IRGC, have threatened U.S. forces and demand that those forces leave Iraq. This puts U.S. forces in a bind. They are wary of the threats but also want to continue the years-long mission of defeating the Islamic State. It also means that U.S. policymakers are concerned about alienating Baghdad. For the Kurdish region, the main message is that Washington should see Erbil as an essential partner for regional stability. The United States is involved in a complex balancing act in eastern Syria while fighting the Islamic State, keeping an eye on Iran, and working with Turkey on creating a safe zone. That means the KRG is poised to play a more important role. Those who live in Erbil are beginning to wonder when Washington will start to see things that way.
Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a writing fellow at Middle East Forum. He is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (Gefen Publishing). Follow him on Twitter at @sfrantzman.