Iraq fears the fire of the Gaza war

While Iraqi politicians warn of the Gaza war spilling over into Iraq, the Kurdish prime minister complains that there is attention for the Palestinians but only silence for the Kurdish cause.

I know him as one of the wisest politicians in Iraq. And not just because we sat on a board together in the Netherlands. The Dutch Kurd Fuad Hussein rose to become Iraq’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. A position that probably suits him best of all his political roles since 2003. And he is already in his second term.

He is deeply concerned about the consequences of the war in Gaza for the entire region, he says to Al-Monitor. ‘I am afraid that the fire in Gaza will burn us all if the US does not succeed in ending the conflict or managing the situation.’

He says he has urged Washington to put pressure on Israel to declare a ceasefire. Because, according to him, the Americans are the only ones who still have influence in Tel Aviv. At the same time, Iraqi Prime Minister Sudani has urged the pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq to stop their attacks on American targets. These have increased so much since the start of the war that American soldiers in Iraq are almost constantly in their bunkers.


The militias see the US as directly involved in the war in Gaza. ‘America is a partner in this battle and in killing Palestinians,’ spokesperson Jaafar al-Husseini of Kataib Hezbollah told journalist Simone Foltyn. ‘What is happening now in terms of targeting American bases is a natural response of the resistance fighters’

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently came to Baghdad to complain about it, and the next day Sudani conveyed his message in Tehran. That’s where the orders come from for the ‘proxies’, Iraqi militias such as Kataib Hezbollah that are paid and directed by Iran. Their plan is to drive the Americans out of Iraq and Syria, but Fuad Hussein emphasizes that this should happen through dialogue, not attacks.

Hussein is personally involved in the shuttle diplomacy between the US and Iran. ‘If there are tensions between Washington and Tehran, it has direct consequences for Iraq and Iraqi internal politics. So, it is in the interest of both countries to peacefully resolve their problems.’

He assumes Iran does not want the conflict to escalate. Moreover, the highest Shiite religious leader in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani, refrained from calling for armed action when he expressed his support for the Palestinians. For most members of the militias this is decisive, although there are some who follow the Iranian religious leader Khamenei.

Targeted Attack

It is mainly these militias that continue their attacks. After the Americans responded for weeks only in Syria  with counterattacks, this week they carried out a targeted attack in Iraq, on one of the militia’s bases. Kataeb Hezbollah reported that five of its members were killed in the attack.

According to the Americans, these were discrete and precision attacks on two locations, mainly a response to attacks on the Al-Assad base, where eight Americans were injured. The goal is to convince the group to stop. Because of the risk of escalation, Fuad Hussein protested against the action to the Americans. For no one thinks the attacks will end because of their reaction.

The fear that such attacks will drag Iraq into the war is also worrying Kurdish President Nerchirvan Barzani. During a forum in Duhok, he warned that Iraq would suffer greatly if that happens. ‘We in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region must be careful,’ he warned.

The Kurdish president recently shared his concerns during a visit to Paris with French President Macron. In Duhok, he insisted that it is time to resolve the root of the conflict, advocating for a two-state solution. Notably, Fuad Hussein did not want to go that far; he only spoke about the right of self-determination for the Palestinians, in a clear attempt not to damage his negotiating position with Iran.


An escalation of the conflict in Gaza cannot end well for the Kurds. Because Iran and its proxies certainly have not forgotten that Israel in 2017 was the only state that supported the Kurds when they went ahead with their independence referendum despite international warnings. Nor will they have missed the fact that the Kurds mainly sold their oil to Israel, until the export via Turkey came to a halt earlier this year.

This also applies to the fact that the Kurds allowed the Americans to build one of the largest consulates in the Middle East near Erbil. Plus, they let them use an old airport from Saddam’s time at Harir as their military base.

Yet Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani used the Palestinian conflict in his opening speech at the same forum to point out that the Kurdish issue is equally unresolved. He called for ‘a fresh look at how we as Kurdistanis coexist with our neighbors.’


‘For 30 years, the call for a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis has been seen as a just and necessary model. Kurds have also demanded the same rights and dignities, yet our cause has often been forsaken. How do you reconcile resounding support for one just cause and deafening silence for another?’

And, he wondered, ‘are the people in Gaza better off today or were they better off before October 7? I think the answer is very clear. Innocent people are paying the ultimate price. We denounce war, we denounce attacking civilians, and we believe that there has to be a peaceful, amicable solution to every conflict here in the Middle East.’

With this, he was certainly not only referring to the rockets of the Iraqi militias that also hit American targets in the Kurdistan Region (such as the Harir airport). But also to the Turkish attacks, which still take place regularly, on targets of the Turkish Kurdish resistance organization PKK on Iraqi-Kurdish territory. And to the pressure from Iran to disarm Iranian-Kurdish resistance groups and move them from their camps and bases, away from the border.

The Kurds are in no position to resist these large, powerful neighbors. And they have that in common with the Palestinians in relation to the Israelis. Barzani, however, cooperates with Ankara, which is not appreciated by many Kurds. But it doesn’t lead to resistance either, although the PKK may gain recruits as a result. A clearer indication is a political apathy among Kurds, who, with the absence of solutions for their cause, lose confidence in their leaders.


And as for the Palestinian cause, there is no Kurd who will not tell you how dictator Saddam Hussein supported the Palestinians and rewarded them for attacks on Israelis. While he oppressed and murdered his own minority, the Kurds. The Iraqi Kurds have years of resistance behind them, which after Saddam’s fall, they saw rewarded with an autonomous status within Iraq.

The two conflicts have thus long ceased to be truly comparable. Except perhaps that in both cases, self-governance proved more difficult than expected, and degenerated into internal conflict and corruption. Barzani is right that the world has turned away from the Kurdish cause. This was also true for the Palestinian cause. And he is probably not looking forward to a reason like the explosion of violence in Gaza to regain the world’s support.

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