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Kurdish Actor Networks in the Middle East

The current wars in the Middle East are changing existing social and political orders. In Syria and in Iraq, a number of state-, semi- and non-state armed groups and alliances are creating a highly complex situation. Amongst them are Kurdish actor groups that act as cooperation partners of NATO and EU countries in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. Since 2014, the German government amongst others has supplied the Kurdish Peshmerga with weapons and training. These measures support the common goal of fighting the Islamic State group but also influence other dynamics in the region, such as national independence efforts or intra- and inter-ethnic conflicts.

Since April 2017, the German Federal Foreign Office has been supporting a BICC research project that investigates Kurdish actor networks in the war contexts of Syria and Iraq. The project aims to obtain a better understanding of the influence on patterns of behaviour of the actors and the resulting actor constellations. It will look at continuities and dynamics amongst Kurdish armed actors but also in relation to other state and non-state actors acting in Syria and Iraq. 

The study that is based on qualitative interviews conducted during numerous weeks of field research in Northern Iraq as well as in European countries with a significant number of Kurdish diaspora representatives generates an added value from the combination of two different methodologies: first, actors and their relation to each other are analyzed by means of a network analysis to be able to then depict scenarios on actor alliances and conflict situations as realistically as possible. Another added value lies in its multi-level approach: state powers and interests (of highly involved countries such as Iran, Turkey, the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia) are contrasted with the actions and goals of local armed actors (such as Kurdish, Yazidi, Turkmen) and actors acting in transnational space (such as pro-Shiite militias, Kurdish actors). 

Like this, the project links the analysis of the causes of conflict with the early recognition of conflict potential. The project's focus on network formations allows us to evaluate obvious contradictions in the complex mix of interests of a cross-border conflict network.

Funded by

Federal Foreign Office

Duration of project

since April 2017