America must defend Kurdish right to independance

If the U.S. allows the Kurds to be defeated, the entire region will take notice of U.S. abandonment of an ally in time of need.

By: Joseph Puder

Iranian supported Iraqi-Shi’ite militias along with the Iraqi army have converged on Kirkuk, bringing the oil-rich city under Baghdad’s control. A fresh new conflict in Iraq is ready to erupt, and it will test the U.S. administration’s commitment to its allies, especially the Kurds. The Kurds have been loyal and supportive American allies. The fresh conflict will confirm whether the Trump administration is merely high on bluster but short on action, or conversely, that it is true to its word regarding support for its allies, and countering Iran’s imperialistic and terroristic ambitions. Suppressing the Kurdish aspirations for independence, which includes Kirkuk, would place the U.S. on the side of Iran and Turkey, who along with the Shi’ite Iraqi government and the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, have ganged up against the Kurds.

Kurds comprise a majority in Kirkuk. Saddam Hussein, the brutal Iraqi dictator, removed Kurds from the oil-rich city and settled them in Southern Iraq. He then settled Arabs in Kirkuk in order to alter the demographic balance. When, in 2014, the Shi’ite-led Iraqi army folded in the face of ISIS attacks and left Kirkuk, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces entered the city and have occupied it since. Kurds resettled by Saddam Hussein in Southern Iraq, have since returned to the Kirkuk Governorate.

While the Iraqi army and its Iranian supported Shi’ite militias, as well as the Kurdish Peshmerga battled ISIS, the issue of the future of the oil-rich Governorate was not contested. As ISIS has been defeated and cleared out of northern Iraq, Erbil based Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has carried out a referendum on independence that included Kirkuk. The question of who will control Kirkuk is critical. For the Kurds, Kirkuk provides economic viability. And for the Baghdad government, Kirkuk is about keeping Iraq whole. Masoud Barzani, President of the KRG, pointed out at a speech in Kirkuk that, “Kirkuk is a Kurdistani city which should become an example for the coexistence of nations and religions.” The Baghdad government has responded to the KRG’s overwhelming vote for independence in the September 25th referendum, by banning international flights to and from Erbil.

The U.S. is caught in what might amount to an impending civil war between Erbil (capital of the KRG) and Baghdad. In the meantime, the Islamic Republic of Iran has moved their Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to the border with the KRG. Reuters reported (October 2, 2017) that “Iran deployed a dozen tanks supported by artillery at its border with Iraq’s autonomous region on Monday, a Kurdish official said, adding that the move was a dangerous escalation in the crisis triggered by Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence vote.” Also, the Iraqi Defense Ministry has said that it planned to take control of the borders “in coordination” with Iran and Turkey.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, addressing the escalating tension in northern Iraq, declared that, “These are issues that are longstanding in some cases, we’re going to have to recalibrate and move these back to a way where we solve them politically and work them out with compromised solutions.” Mattis added, “My forces are integrated among these forces and they’re working to make certain we keep any potential for conflict off the table.”

To deter Tehran, Ankara and Baghdad forces from initiating hostilities against Erbil, Washington policymakers must issue a simple statement that would declare that the U.S. will back its partner (the Kurdish Peshmerga) that is being attacked. It appears more than likely that Turkey’s Erdo?an, and Iran’s Rouhani will urge Iraqi-Shi’ite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to move against the KRG. {Two minor typos were fixed, Erdo?an and Shi’ite.}
A U.S. statement, warning would be aggressor against initiating hostilities would provide the KRG with long overdue recognition as a loyal U.S. ally since 2003.

The focus on defeating ISIS has prevented the U.S. from giving close attention to the larger picture playing out in the region. The Trump administration is finally opting to focus on Iran’s imperialistic ambitions and terrorist actions, also understood as seeking to materialize the dream of a “Shi’ite Crescent.” Tehran’s destabilizing moves throughout the region has also been recognized by the Trump administration. The U.S. is similarly more cognizant of Turkey’s negative moves, and its support for its Islamist allies in the region, including Hamas in Gaza.

With ISIS on the ropes, Washington must begin to reexamine its relationship with the Shi’ite-run Iraqi government of Haider al-Abadi. State Department officials are deceiving themselves in the belief that they can pry Baghdad away from Iran’s orbit. Given the power of the Popular Mobilization Forces (loyal to Iran) within Iraq, the likelihood that Baghdad will be swayed by the U.S. to move away from Iran is unlikely. This amounts to U.S. taxpayer dollars wasted on a client/ally of Iran, and a U.S. enemy.

The Baghdad government has made a mockery of the Iraqi constitution, which meant to unite Kurds, Shi’ites, and Sunnis. Instead, Nuri Al-Maliki, Iraq’s previous Shi’ite Prime Minister, alienated the Sunnis to the degree that they chose to welcome ISIS. Shi’ite Baghdad also alienated the Kurds, who had no other recourse but to opt for independence. It is therefore time for Washington to end its “One Iraq Policy.”

Kurds constitute the largest ethnic minority in the world without a state. Having been cheated out of an independent state in the aftermath of WWI, the Kurds have been suppressed by their Arab, Iranian, and Turkish neighbors for over 100 years. In helping to defeat ISIS in the battlefield through the sacrifices of their sons and daughters, the Kurds have earned the right to assert their national independence.

Kurdistan would be a reliable American ally in a hostile region. It would also serve as a buffer against Iranian expansionism. An independent Kurdistan with Kirkuk within its borders would reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy. For the liberal democracies of the West, an independent Kurdistan may finally usher another democracy (besides Israel) into the region, and a potential source of economic and social progress in the Middle East. If however, the U.S. allows its staunch ally, the Kurds, to be defeated, the entire region will take notice of the U.S. abandonment of an ally in time of need. The remaining U.S allies in the Middle East will hasten to recalculate their relationship with Washington.

The Trump administration must not repeat the blindness of previous administrations in adhering to the “One Iraq Policy.” Kirkuk is at the heart of the conflict between the Kurds and the Baghdad-Ankara-Tehran axis. History will judge America on whether it supports the Kurdish people’s right of self-determination, or seeks to appease the likes of Erdo?an, Rouhani, and al-Abadi. In the name of justice, fairness, and our democratic values, America must defend the Kurdish right to independence.

October 22, 2017 | 2 Comments »

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  1. The Kurds main problem is their failure to unite. They are for practical purpose no behaving differently from Su & Shi.

  2. Great article, except for the opening…

    “If the U.S. allows the Kurds to be defeated, the entire region will take notice of U.S. abandonment of an ally in time of need.”

    If only that was the case…

    While Sunni and Shi’a Arabs may blow each other apart, the one thing they can agree upon–besides hatred of Israel, even if some chose to temporarily use it for their own ends–is that this whole region is “purely Arab patrimony,” with the necessary exception of the earlier Arabized Turks and Iranians. Both Shi’a and Sunni regard the birth of Kurdistan as another Israel.

    So that leaves Turkey and Iran. Yes, they see America’s abandonment of its Kurdish allies…but this is merely the same old same old going back at least a half century. Not that this makes this less nauseating, but that it was very predictable.

    The pity was that the supposedly unpredictable Trump unfortunately was this time predictable as well as he followed the lead of his anti-Israel/anti-Kurd State Department which specializes in using and abusing Kurds and shafting Jews. The late great Bill Safire of TNYTimes wrote a series of revealing articles back in the ’70s about this repeated sellout of the Kurds.

    Now check this out as well…