Iraq Kurds
Displaced families from the city of Tikrit make their way to Kirkuk Reuters

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused the country's Kurds of exploiting the crisis in Iraq to push for statehood.

With anti-Maliki militias and Islamic fundamentalists encroaching on the Iraqi capital, it is an uncertain time for the PM and the country he has led to the brink of collapse. However, when it comes to the Kurdish question, Maliki is completely right.

Recent developments have seen the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leadership calling on its parliament to prepare for a referendum on independence. Maliki in turn called the autonomous region a haven for Islamist fighters from the Islamic State.

Kurdish ministers have said they would boycott future meetings of the Iraqi caretaker government. Baghdad responded by halting flights from the Iraqi capital to Kurdish cities of Arbil and Sulaimaniya.

In a sign of the KRG' increasing assertiveness, its leaders have threatened to sue Baghdad twice in a week. In the first instance, the Kurds threatened to counter-sue central government over attempts to block the sale of Kurdish oil on international markets.

The second proposal would see the KRG suing buyers of Iraqi oil on the basis that they are complicit in violating the Iraqi constitution, as Baghdad has not paid the KRG its budget entitlement.

The fact that the KRG is making these statements shows the shifting balance of power and the confidence among an emboldened Kurdish leadership.

Iraq's Kurdish population has long sought to upgrade their autonomous status within Iraq to that of an independent nation state. That movement, led by the KRG, has gained momentum this year, within the region itself and in foreign capitals.

Crucially for the Kurds, they appear to have support from their northern neighbour. Recap Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey is a key player in the geopolitical tangle over what we may one day refer to as the 'former Iraq.'

There are mixed messages in Turkey over whether Ankara would support the creation of an independent state of Kurdistan. Some suggest Turkey would support the move, or at least not object in public.

Indeed, Ankara had been dealing independently with the Kurds for years, accepting deliveries of Kurdish oil via overland routes. Economic ties strengthened in 2014, as Turkey accepted oil deliveries via a newly completed pipeline that cut out Baghdad.

The Kurdish oil was transported to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, where it was loaded on to tankers and sent on to global markets. Despite Baghdad's protestations and legal threats to warn importers off "smuggled" oil, Turkey is dealing with the KRG as if it were a state already.

Moreover, the Kurds have the private backing of the most powerful player in the region. While the United States has condemned any moves towards independence, economic ties with Arbil are strong. The Americans see Kurdistan as a beacon of stability in an increasingly turbulent region.

Given the fragility of Maliki's central government, the US will not support the Kurds' moves for statehood in public. The White House still has to contend with the growing threat that anti-Maliki militants and Islamic State jihadists pose to the country and its neighbours. Yet the White House would not want to lose a strategic ally that remains stable amid chaos and would probably work out a deal with the Kurds, even if the timing is imperfect.

When militants from Isis symbolically posed for photos at the Syria-Iraq border, they were declaring the collapse of the old order and the birth of their Caliphate. While this second aim is far from realised and unrealistic, the old colonial dividing lines are indeed being redrawn.

Iraq's official borders, drawn up by an Englishman and a Frenchman as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, look increasingly unworkable and unrealistic.

With access to independent revenue, backing from regional players and a sizeable, disciplined militia, the Kurds are confident that they will have their own place in the new Middle East.