The Kurdish Solution to the Present Iraq Crisis

The Kurdish Solution to the Present Iraq Crisis
Michael Steltzer

The recognition and support of Kurdistan seems to be the best viable solution to the present Iraq Crisis.

Kurdistan has been fighting for self-determination and nationhood before these kinds of words existed. Their territory is there where the creation of modern civilization has its roots. Yet the manifestation of their sovereign existence has continually been displaced by other great empires, be they called Persian, Ottoman or Arabian. We know that today over 30 million Kurdish people are situated in other countries like Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. In spite of many attempts of the Kurds it has never been possible for them to attain the state of nationhood. Colonial and Neocolonial interests have fragmented aqua the barriers and boundaries of the Kurdish people. None of the states where the Kurds presently live have a particular love for an independent Kurdish subset of their population.


In Turkey Kurdish was forbidden as an official language for many years. Many Turkish nationalists still deny the existence of a Kurdish people within Turkish borders. Official statistics within Turkey speak of a Kurd population of 13.5 million (Census 1965!); Kurdish estimates are at twice that amount. Most Turkish Kurds live in the south-eastern part of Turkey. However a large concentration of Kurds has migrated to the westward to Istanbul, the Turkish city with the largest population of Kurds — with an estimated 2 million to 4 million out of the city’s total of 12 million. in recent years the Turkish Government has been getting a bit “softer”. They profit from getting inexpensive Oil from the Kurdish part of Iraq and they know that the extremist PKK is being compromised by the Kurd Leadership in Erbil. The resistance of Kurds within Turkey to this existential denial has also had its effect. So has the leverage of the European community putting pressure on the Turkish state to respect the human rights of the Kurd population. In the meantime there are elected representatives of Kurdish people in the Turkish Parliament. There are even Kurdish Newspapers in Istanbul. Nonetheless there is still the large fear of Turkish nationalists that an independent state of Kurdistan in Iraq would lead to changing the borders of south-eastern Turkey.

In Iran the political leadership is opposed to the Sunni militants of the ISIS forces. So are the Kurds in the Kurdish part of Iran, who are also predominantly Shiite. And so are the Kurds in the Kurdish part of Iraq who are Sunni in their majority. This constellation could help the over 7 million Iranian Kurds and as such also assist Kurdistan in its endeavor for independence. Still, It will be a long way before nationalist Iranians allow “their” Kurds to unite with their brothers and sisters in Iraq. What is interesting is that the Iranians do not consider themselves to be Arabs and neither do the Kurds.

The Kurds in Syria are still under the dictatorship of Assad. The turmoil in Syria gives them the possibility to regroup themselves. As the fighting in Damascus and Aleppo intensifies, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces have relinquished control of several Kurdish towns in order to concentrate on battling the rebels elsewhere. Kurdish leaders claim they now control about 50% of the territory there, and warn they will take up arms against the regime if it tries to return. They say they want autonomy in a democratic Syria. With a combined total of about 30 million, Kurds are one of the world’s largest stateless people. In Syria, they make up just under 10% of the population.

The present bastion of the Kurd Nation is in the northern part of Iraq with Barzani as their President. He has been successfully maneuvering this regional segment of the State of Iraq so as to avoid conflict with all neighbors and involved parties. Some commentators compare this to a juggler, who is able to keep all the balls in the air. Barzani has a good relationship to the US and has met with VP Biden on a number of occasions. In 2006 Biden (as a Senator fro Delaware) suggested in an NYT Op Ed together with Peter Galbraith, that the artificial structure of Iraq be disbanded and that Kurdistan should be recognized as an independent state. Now in lieu of new sectarian violence in Iraq many say that these thoughts should be revisited.

Barzani has done much to get Turkey to remove itself as an enemy of Kurdistan. And he knows very well that Israel is not interested in a strong Iraq and would indirectly support the existence of a Kurd Republic. Having Iran as a bordering neighbor leads him to look for good neighborly relations. So he puts his influence on the radical Kurd Opposition in Iran to “keep it cool”.

The Kurd region of Iraq has been taking in thousands of refugees coming from Syria and recently also from the embattled Regions of Iraq, where the militants if the Sunni Isis forces have been showing their military muscle. The military organs of the Kurds – Pesh Merga – have been asked by the governor of Kirkuk Najmaldin Karim to come into the city and secure it from the instability of an ISIS invasion. They did this for three reasons:

Kirkuk is an oil city – one says he who controls Kirkuk controls Iraq. The political and military vacuum is a onetime opportunity to regain the borders of Kurdistan
Kirkuk is a historical and cultural heart of Kurdistan. In the 1990s Saddam Hussein displaced over 250,000 Kurds from Kirkuk und replaced them with Arabs, part of the governments so-called “arabization” policy.

Kurdistan is looking for its economic independence and viability. The Kurdish integration of the rich oil fields of Kirkuk now make this possible. It is a step closer to the statehood of Kurdistan and to its true national sovereignty.

American foreign policy in Iraq is still being dictated by the interests of control and military might. The present concept of reengaging sectarian forces in a drawn out military conflict, or even “taking sides” in a conflict between Sunni and Shia is a deadly vortex with no future perspective. What are a few air strikes going to change other than the lives of innocent families? What are 300 Special Forces going to do in the scheme of things when there is no scheme. The only thing positive about the deployment of Special Forces is that one of the two “Joint Operation Centers” will likely be in Kurdistan.

We must accept reality and support those forces that will responsibly watch out for their country, that will oppose the sectarian violence and support humanitarian ideals. The only force that can do this is the Kurdish Nation. They are the ones who need moral, political, financial and, if need be, military support. We need to recognize this and see it as a viable alternative to the present dead-end dilemma US foreign policy is in.

The recognition of a Republic of Kurdistan would not cost a single American life. It would not oppose US allies Turkey and Israel. It would not put the US on the dividing line of Shiites and Sunnis. It would forward our ideals of self-determination and independence. It would be a clear sign of opposing sectarianism and state terror. It would be a relief for the American People and for all peoples of the world.

Yes, there would be new borders drawn in Iraq. But these would reflect reality and not the interests of colonial and imperial powers looking for spheres of influence and economic power. Artificial borders do not reflect the interest of the people living there. We have seen what happened to Yugoslavia.

Peter Galbraith, who has often been categorized as Kurdistans Foreign Minister, has recently written an article in Politico, which describes the dilemma of US foreign Policy in Iraq and it’s inability to develop a long term concept to fight the ISIS. His article is quoted below.
There is no peace in the Middle East as long as Kurdistan cannot determine its own destiny.

Peter Galbraith – Politico 6/2014:

Similarly, U.S. views on Iraq’s unity have evolved. While the State Department takes the official line that it wants reconciliation among Iraq’s leaders, senior officials are, more and more, acknowledging privately that the independence of Kurdistan is inevitable. In fine bureaucratic manner, they simply prefer it not happen on their watch.
Nonetheless, Kurdistan’s independence is probable in the near future. Should ISIS take Baghdad, Kurdistan will declare itself independent the next day. The mostly secular Kurds would have no truck with a fanatical Islamist regime.

Even before ISIS emerged as a major threat, the Kurds doubted they had partners in Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki has for years refused to implement constitutional provisions giving Kurdistan control over its own oil and requiring a referendum on the status of Kirkuk and other territories disputed between the Kurds and the central government. Maliki’s decision earlier this year to withhold Kurdistan’s constitutionally guaranteed share of the Iraqi budget enraged the Kurds, who started discussing holding a referendum on Kurdistan’s future. Even if ISIS advances no further than the Sunni parts of Iraq, the Kurds do not see a future for Iraq or for themselves as Iraqis.

Until last week, the Obama administration’s Kurdistan diplomacy focused mostly on trying to patch up—or at least paper over—the quarrel between Erbil and Baghdad over oil and the budget. But if the United States is to roll back ISIS, it needs Kurdish help. Kurdistan has an obvious interest in staying out of a war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites and, so far, ISIS has mostly refrained from attacking the Kurdish areas.
If the United States wants the peshmerga to join the fray, it will have to pay a price. Operationally, the Kurds need humanitarian assistance for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who fled to Kurdistan the last week as well as for the quarter-million Syrian refugees already on Kurdish territory. The peshmerga will need sophisticated U.S. weaponry of the type provided to the Iraqi Army (and now in the hands of ISIS).
Kurdistan will also want something to fight for, and that is independence. To convert their current de facto independence into full independence, the Kurds need diplomatic recognition. And this the United States can provide.

So, here is the basis of a bargain: U.S. recognition of an independent Kurdistan in exchange for peshmerga troops joining a U.S. air campaign against ISIS and helping to stabilize what used to be Iraq. While there will be hand-wringing within our foreign policy establishment (a group professionally committed to the perpetual existence of every country on the map), the United States would in fact be giving only a little to get a lot. Iraq has broken apart and is no more capable of being put back together than Yugoslavia was in 1991. President Obama gamely talks about reconciliation among Iraqis, but this will not happen. There are no changes that Maliki—or any successor Shiite leader—can make that will satisfy the Sunnis. The Sunnis don’t want a more friendly Shiite leader; they want the Shiites out of power altogether. ISIS wants to exterminate the Shiites.

The United States should stop asking the Kurds to help save Iraq because Iraq is not saveable, and, if it were, the Kurds would not want to save it. Instead, the critical U.S. interest has now become stopping ISIS. If ISIS is not defeated, there will be in western Iraq and eastern Syria a transnational terrorist state controlling large cities and with vast recruiting potential. Seen in this context, U.S. diplomatic recognition of an independent Kurdistan has become a very small price to pay.

(Peter W. Galbraith, a former US Ambassador to Croatia and Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, is the author of The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, first published in 2006. He has been an advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government and has previously had business and financial interests in Kurdistan.)

Sources:

NYT International June 20,2014, Page A8 “Iraq’s Kurds See a Chance to Gain Ground” by Tim Arango

Article by Peter Galbraith in Politico 06/2014 “House of Kurds.” http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/iraq-independent-kurdistan-107958_Page2.html#ixzz35TplVJQL

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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