The Kurdish Case, Time for a New Policy

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by Diliman Abdulkader, Research Associate at EMET

photo credit: AP/Khalid Mohammed

Kurdish presence is becoming ever more prevalent in recent news; it is not difficult to find updates on their battles against Daesh (Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, calling for an independent state in Iraq, or overcoming Turkish crackdown by the AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Kurds have benefited since the appropriation of Mosul by Daesh in 2014 and they have taken advantage of Iraq’s weak army and Assad’s loss of grip in Syria. Despite these gains, the international community remains naïve.

The United States, European powers and Russia are overly eager to retain the status quo of failed states, continuing to establish ‘democracies’ while excluding the largest nation in the heart of Middle East – Kurds. For decades the Kurds have tirelessly struggled to persuade US administrations to establish a foreign policy in favor solely of the Kurds and not of the states which they are confined within. Kurds are largely pro-western, secular and have always been reliable allies of the United States despite continuously receiving the short end of the stick. US interests would be greatly served with an established Kurdish policy in the Middle East.

Strategically speaking, the advantage of a Kurdish state would allow for additional US military bases in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the Kurds would readily welcome this. This would also lesson the reliance on Turkey, a United States NATO partner, an alliance that has spurred many complications as of late. The US shares Incirlik air base with Turkey, and ironically, Erdogan’s government is also open to allowing Russia to use the same base.

Establishing military bases in the KRG would permit the US a sense of strong security against the Islamic Republic of Iran, a staunch and open supporter of terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah of Lebanon, as well as Assad’s dwindling forces. This would also lessen burden on the cost of fighting Daesh, where it holds its stronghold in Mosul, only miles from the KRG.

The United States’ strongest ally, Israel, strongly believes that an independent Kurdistan is crucial to achieving regional stability. Iran endlessly aims to threaten the existence of Israel, the only prosperous democracy in the Middle East. Israel would feel more secure knowing that it has an ally it can count on in the Middle East. Today there are an estimated 200,000 Kurdish Jews living in Israel. Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer has been noted saying, “Israel has another people in the Middle East who truly love freedom, and they are continuing to fight for their freedom, that is the Kurdish people”. Ambassador Dermer is one of many top Israeli officials who have recently supported a Kurdish state, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. KRG-Israeli relations has for a long time remained private, former Deputy for Foreign Policy and International Affairs at Israel’s National Security Council, Eran Lerman, suggests that Jerusalem “does not want to give the Kurds’ enemies the ability to say that this is something we are fomenting”.

Economically, with the support of the United States and Israel, the Kurdistan Regional Government would be able to export oil and gas via Turkish pipelines or through Israel to Europe, lessening the reliance on Arab OPEC states. It is estimated that Israel has about NIS 3.84 billion worth of oil which has been imported from the KRG. This is certainly a bold move from the KRG to bypass Baghdad. Today, the KRG exports over 500,000 bpd via the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. The central government in Iraq has largely been ignored by the KRG as it looks for ways to fund its war against Daesh.

An administration that supports the notion of a Kurdish state would also bring stability to the region, easing the tension between rival Sunni and Shiite populations. The divorce of Iraq is inevitable. Tehran continues to meddle into the politics of Baghdad, controlling much of Iraq’s Shiite population. It may be too late for the Obama Administration to change its policy in the Middle East, however the next president may be forced to face this obvious demand. Many states today support an independent Kurdistan. KRG President Masoud Barzani has recently specified that “no country is against Kurdish independence”.

A US Middle East policy based on the ‘status quo’ would only deteriorate the progress the Kurds have made against Daesh since 2014. Let us not forget that the Kurds willingly protected thousands of civilians after the Iraqi army fled when IS captured Mosul with merely a few hundred men. The result was catastrophic; billions of US dollars were lost along with US military equipment now in the hands of terrorists. It’s vital to remember that not one American life was lost during the 2003 Iraq war within the Kurdistan Region.

Currently the Kurdistan Regional Government has begun the process of a referendum calling for independence. It is ever more clear that it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the declaration will take place. Kurds are largely suffering and have suffered due to the lack of sovereignty. The KRG’s head of Department of Foreign Relations, Falah Mustafa Bakir, stated that “if talks with Baghdad did not result in a positive answer or a solution, then at that time I believe the leadership in the Kurdistan Region would be obliged to go forward with the issue of the referendum”. Furthermore, speaker of the Iraqi ParliamentSalim al-Jabouri has stated that “independence is a legal right granted by the Iraqi constitution”.

For the United States to abandon the Kurds simply to favor a defective NATO ally Turkey or to hold together a fragile Iraqi state that will eventually cease to exist would be utter failure. The next US administration cannot continue to ignore Kurdish aspirations for an independent state. Kurds in Syria have also pushed to determine their own future, carving out what they believe is historically their territory, which Ankara has threatened to dismantle and has likened Kurds to Daesh. A change in policy is prominently overdue; over a century has passed since the signing of the Treaty of Sevres which has only complicated the Middle East and crushed Kurdish calls for statehood. The international community must respect Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and that of the United Nations Charter, self-determination must be implemented.

Originally published at The Kurdish Case:

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About the Author

Diliman Abdulkader
Diliman Abdulkader is the director of The Kurdistan Project at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He was born in Kirkuk, Kurdistan.

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